Knowledge is the accumulation of facts and information. Wisdom is the mindful development of knowledge and experiences with insights that deepen understanding and inform action. In other words, knowledge is a tool, and wisdom is the craft in which the tool is used. “Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living, the other helps you make a life.”- Sandra Carey
Wisdom is seasoned by living. It is described with attributes such as unbiased judgment, compassion; and virtues such as ethics and benevolence. Charles Haddon Spurgeon defined wisdom as “the right use of knowledge.” In these days of greater challenges, we should be seeking more wisdom. How many people have we met who have an immense amount of knowledge, but aren’t incredibly wise? And how many people are remarkably simple without a wealth of knowledge, but are wise?
Both knowledge and skill are morally neutral. Wisdom is not morally neutral. Wisdom is beneficial. Wisdom is the capacity of judging rightly in matters relating to life and conduct; soundness of judgement in the choice of means and ends. To evaluate present circumstances with a view of future success. When we apply wisdom, the result can be transformational.
Vast amounts of knowledge are available at the tip of our fingertips, just a few clicks away. Wisdom however is not as easily attained. It takes a lifetime to acquire it. It is a process not an event. Knowledge is of the past; wisdom is of the future. “By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” – Confucius
As a Star Trek – The Next Generation fan, years ago I made note of a line spoken by the android, Data, “the most elementary and valuable statement in science, the beginning of wisdom is ‘I do not know’.” However, the combination of wisdom and science is a slippery slope. Isaac Asimov famously said, “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” My freshmen year in college I remember an engineering professor saying that all knowledge is good, just not all application of such knowledge is wise. Consider nuclear fission which led to both the atomic bomb and nuclear-power plants, Freon the main ingredient in refrigeration and the main thing destroying the ozone layer, Dynamite invented for use in mining that became an instrument of war, and believe it or not, the cotton gin which quickly separated cotton fibers from their seeds and enabled much greater productivity but unintentionally caused the explosive growth of slavery in the American South as the demand for cotton workers rapidly increased to fuel profits for plantation owners.
Wisdom can be in the form of simple statements. The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland gifted us with wisdom in just one line, “if we don’t mind where we are going then it doesn’t matter which way we go.” As did Yogi Berra with “if you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Consider these from Dr. Howard Hendricks from Dallas Seminary’s Center for Christian Leadership:
- It’s not how many times we’ve been through the Bible, it’s how many times the Bible has been through us.
- We impress people from a distance, but we impact them from up close.
- We can’t be holy in a hurry.
The word wisdom is mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible, occurring most often in Proverbs. It was regarded as one of the highest virtues among the Israelites along with kindness and justice. The Hebrew word for wisdom is hakmot which is a feminine noun, so Wisdom is referred to as “she.” The Old Testament provides both a view of God’s wisdom and how our lives are affected by our pursuit of wisdom. Chapter 8 in the book of Proverbs is Wisdom’s longest speech and has profoundly influenced Jewish and Christian thought. Wisdom invites us to be attentive to her valuable influence in human society. Wisdom was present at the creation of the world. She promises life and the favor of God to those who are devoted to her, death to those who reject her.
Proverbs 2:6-13 – For the LORD gives wisdom, from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He has success in store for the upright, is the shield of those who walk honestly, guarding the paths of justice, protecting the way of his faithful ones. Then you will understand what is right and just, what is fair, every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, knowledge will be at home in your soul, discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you. Saving you from the way of the wicked, from those whose speech is perverse. From those who have left the straight paths to walk in the ways of darkness.
The Letter of James addressed the early Christian churches. Its style follows the tradition of Jewish wisdom literature that is found in the Old Testament. It is a plea concerned with ethical conduct. He encourages and implores believers to humbly live by godly, rather than worldly, wisdom. To achieve spiritual maturity, we must take a confident stand with compassionate service and concerned sharing. James 1:5 says, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it.” Wisdom is a gift that God readily grants to all who ask in faith. It can sustain us in times of trial.
Jesus, like Wisdom, calls out to people to listen to him, to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). He promises to tell them the truth, seeks disciples, invites them to a banquet, and gives them life.
We access wisdom through the heart, not just the brain. Wisdom is transformational and beneficial. It is love in its highest expression. Today more than ever, we must seek more wisdom.