All Saints Sydenham

11th October 2009

Wisdom and Folly

Compare these two statements, both from the Bible:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

The fool says in his heart ‘there is no God’

People don’t talk much about Wisdom today. That may be because there is so little of it around compared with previous ages.

We hear a lot of talk about Intelligence, Skills, Cleverness, Learning and Education, and people who have (or don’t have) certain Qualifications. But none of these things is the same as ‘Being wise’ or ‘Having wisdom’.

In bygone times, even quite recent ones, it was quite usual to say of certain people who’d had very little formal education, ‘but he (or she) is very wise’; and for well-educated people to consult such Wise Persons when faced with a difficult problem to which the so-called ‘Professionals couldn’t provide an answer. And they would give due weight and consideration whatever that Wise Person said when making up their mind as to what to do next

Nowadays it’s quite different. We go to a so-called ‘professional’ adviser: doctor, lawyer, bereavement counsellor or educational psychologist as our first stop. And we do this for the following two reasons:

The belief has been encouraged (not least by such Professionals) that they, and only they, are qualified to guide us; and

There is a serious shortage of Wise people to consult, at the present time.

Now let me say at once that there are situations in which professional advice is needed immediately. It would be very foolish to expect a Wise person who has had no medical training to be of much use if we are suffering from some life-threatening condition like typhoid fever. But there are all sorts of minor ailments to which the old adage ‘Mother knows best’ still apply. And even if you have no Mother to turn to, a wise friend or a relative will often have good advice to give us.

Their advice will be useful precisely because they too have experienced, or know someone who has experienced, the particular thing that is troubling us. The Professional will be more likely to have gained their knowledge about our condition from a book or a lecture in Medical School.

When we consult such a Wise Person about our troubles we are doing what the Prayer Book calls ‘opening our grief’ to them – ‘talking things over’ in other words – it often suggests to us the right move to make next. Not because the person being consulted ‘knows all the answers’. Far from it; but because they’ve listened to us, the right thing to do suggests itself simply as a result of talking to them.

Who that Listener is will depend on who is most available. But there are good reasons to think that someone who believes in God is more likely to come up with a useful answer than someone who doesn’t believe – for as the Psalmist quoted in the beginning said, ‘The fool says in his heart ‘there is no God’: and consulting a fool rather than a wise person isn’t the best way to get sound guidance!

‘Someone who believes in God’, of course, doesn’t just mean ‘someone who believes that God exists’; it means rather, ‘someone who tries to live their whole life ‘in the fear and nurture of the Lord’, and is therefore seen to practise (however unsuccessfully) what they believe and preach. Many of those who consult me as their parish priest want to talk about matters which, at first sight anyway, have nothing to do with ‘religion’ and often are subjects about which I initially know very little: they’re worried about their health, their child, their debts or their job for example.

What such ‘consultations’ achieve is two-fold. In the first place it helps to clarify, for both parties, what the real problem is and how seriously (or immediately) it should be addressed.

Secondly, as we saw earlier and often in a quite uncanny manner, our talking ‘suggests’ to one or other of us (or even both!), and sooner rather than later, what our next step should be.

That is not, let me insist, because the listener, be they priest or layman, ‘knows all the answers’. Very far from it, although they may well know someone else who is experienced in that particular area. But just as often, it is a chance remark, made either by the Listener or the person who is consulting them, which provides the clue, perhaps some time later (when both parties have had time to reflect on what was said.

How often have people said to me something like the following: ‘You know, what really went home to me is what you said about the fact that I interrupt people, or seldom smile, or use long words when short ones will do’. In all probability one doesn’t remember even raising the subject with them. Never mind! God the Holy Spirit can, and often does use something spoken on that occasion to ‘drive home’ to those who took part in the consultation where the root of the problem lies.

Like the worldly-wise, those to whom God has given a measure of Holy Wisdom will be able to understand what is the ‘sensible’ or the ‘natural’ wise course of action is to take in a particular situation: and recommend to the person who is seeking their guidance.

However, worldly wisdom, coming from a secular source, and Divine Wisdom, channelled through the mouth of a fellow Christian, are likely to differ in one vital respect: the Worldly-wise see things solely ‘from a human point of view. Those who are imbued with Heavenly Wisdom see things from another, quite different, perspective.

For they know, and will try and make others aware of, the fact that God is our all-seeing and He knows every moment of our lives what we are doing, thinking or feeling. That is called ‘fearing the Lord’. That doesn’t mean ‘being frightened of Him’, but knowing that His will for us, and what is in our best interest, are one and the same thing.

‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ was the Bible quotation we started with; lett us end with another which says ‘Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord and depart from evil’.

Return to Sermon Salad

Return to Trushare Home Page