A proposal from Brett McCracken for a Wisdom Pyramid in the vein of the USDA’s food pyramid to help us navigate the often overwhelming waters of the information age has inspired me to tackle some of my questions, criticisms, and hopefully helpful suggestions for such a project.
Maybe we (and Brett McCracken) have put the pyramid cart before the wisdom horse. If that isn’t clear as mud, then let me put it another way. We have been talking about and criticizing how to depict something that we never took the time to define in the first place. So what is Wisdom anyway?
Unfortunately, we could start with all the ways that Christianity has gotten it wrong over the years. A Google search for “wisdom in the bible” easily leads you down the primrose path to theologies like the prosperity gospel. I had never even heard of Mike Murdock before the aforementioned Google search. Turns out his brand of the prosperity gospel is branded as The Wisdom Center, though his wisdom clearly does not come in the form of web design skills.
Thankfully we don’t have to try and find wisdom by process of elimination. I’m a new fan of The Bible Project! I love what these guys are trying to do to make the depths of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and Tradition more accessible and understandable to lay people. They even have The Wisdom Series which includes an introduction and exploration of the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. Here’s their introduction to this genre and section of Scripture:
The wisdom books of the Old Testament offer three different perspectives on how to live well in God’s good world. They reveal the collected wisdom of generations of godly people, and invite us to consider the complexity and simplicity of living wisely.
I highly recommend checking out their site for more in-depth info on this and some recommended resources for further study.
The Wisdom Shortcut
Wisdom is not easily summed up which is why it doesn’t fit so neatly into a pyramid. Wisdom often comes from experiences, traditions, and communities. In many ways creating a static, two-dimensional model to try and circumvent these routes to wisdom is part of the problem. In this way, the Wisdom Pyramid actually embodies the very problem that it claims to help us resolve. If social media and Twitter can be seen as shortcuts to real community, interactions, and relationships, then the Wisdom Pyramid, in a similar fashion, tries to skip over the hard work through experiences, traditions, and communities that can teach us real wisdom. So what does real wisdom look like in the biblical tradition and text?
The Narrow Path
Wisdom in the Hebrew Bible is often personified as the feminine Sophia. Proverbs 8:22-31 describes Wisdom as existing with God before creation and taking part in the act of creation itself. Wisdom is thus often connected to or associated with the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, pneuma, or breath of life.
In Proverbs 1:20-21 Lady Wisdom is depicted crying in the streets and to be found in public places. Wisdom here is not hidden. Wisdom isn’t confined to the temples, churches, or universities. Likewise, Job entreats us to seek Wisdom in nature (Job 12:7-13) by paying attention to the animals, birds, plants, and fish (See the previous post). So perhaps it is not wise to limit Wisdom to either the Bible or the church. Maybe (God forbid!) it’s possible to find wisdom through the internet or Twitter. The point of both of these verses is that the Wisdom of God can be found anywhere.
James 3:17 describes what this kind of wisdom looks like, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” One translation for “willing to yield” is “open to listen to reason.” Proverbs 3:7 adds, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” It is clear that the kind of Wisdom described in the Bible is not the rigid certitude that we often see in so many religious people (including myself!).
There are Scriptures though that point us to places where we might be more likely to find Wisdom. The passage from Job mentioned before says in verse 12, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” There is something about Wisdom that can only be gained through experience and time. Therefore we should hold a certain amount of respect and space for those with more experience and years. Does this mean that everyone over 55 has instant wisdom? Of course not! But we can expect to find more Wisdom with those who have been through more and should pay attention!
The final thought on Wisdom in the Bible is that it is not a solo expedition. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel, plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed.” The Anabaptist tradition that I belong to believes that we understand Scripture best and can hear the Spirit speaking most clearly in a community. This kind of discernment doesn’t fit easily into a pyramid or other static model for Wisdom. I hope to offer some suggestions for possible images or models soon, but first I want to address the bottom two layers of the Wisdom Pyramid… the Bible and the Church.