The Biblical notion of wisdom has a rich history. The idea started in the ancient world. Wisdom was considered a skill, like the ability to play an instrument, work with metal, or navigate a ship. Then they developed the idea that having wisdom was how to live well. They developed wisdom schools, and future leaders studied there. The Israelites would have encountered them in Egypt and Babylon. The Israelites understood that wisdom was an attribute of God and a gift of God. Traditionally, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom and Sirach are classified as wisdom books, and they have some powerful things to say on the subject. Proverbs 9 presents wisdom and folly as two competing dinner invitations. Isaiah 11:2 teaches that wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
We see that wisdom involves the ability to discern what is valuable and what is worthless. Psalm 4 says,” How long will you love what is futile and seek what is false?” Psalm 24 says “Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord? Who shall stand in his holy place? … The clean of hand and pure of heart whose soul is not set on vain things …” How much human suffering comes from seeing something worthless, even harmful, and thinking it is valuable? Heroin and pornography are extreme examples, but can we think of times we have pursued something we desired strongly, only to find out it was worthless, or worse? Wisdom helps us discern the great treasure, the pearl of great price.
St. Paul talks about how Jesus flips human wisdom upside down with the power of the cross. All truth revolves around the Pascal mystery. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of
God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside [Isaiah 29:14}.” Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than the human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).” We find ourselves by giving ourselves away.
James tells of the connection between love and wisdom, the flipside of the modern proverb, “Sin makes you stupid.” “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show his works by a good life in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. Wisdom of this kind does not come down from above but is earthy, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace (James 1:13-18).” See also Philippians 1:9-11 and, of course, 1 Corinthians 13. One last point: Jesus tells us that wisdom can be found in both the new and the old. I’ve met some people who were sure that the current generation is much smarter than all previous generations, and so they have nothing to teach us (That is scary!). There are others that think the current generation has had no good insights, and we just need to get back to the way things used to be. “Do not say: ‘How is it that former times were better than these?’ For it is not out of wisdom that you ask about this (Ecclesiastes 7:10).” Nostalgia can help us forget some of the things that were really wrong back then. Jesus clearly loved the Old Testament (He quoted it so much and built on it so much there is no room for doubt), but He most certainly brought some things that were very new.
We have much to learn, much, much, much.