Knowledge and Wisdom

I was honored to be invited back to St. Andrew’s by the Sea, in Little Compton, RI this weekend (and a few more times in the coming weeks). The readings can be found here; I focused mostly on the Proverbs reading and the Gospel.


One of my closest friends is a guy named Chris (that’s his real name; this isn’t an incriminating story). Chris and I grew up together. After high school, I began what would be a rather long journey through college, grad school, law school, and seminary. College wasn’t for Chris. He joined the Army, did a few tours in Iraq, was injured in a massive explosion, lived to tell the tale, and two weeks ago got engaged to a wonderful woman.

Chris and I are very close friends. We know each other well and have talked about a lot of diverse and incredibly complicated things. Chris is a smart person. I am a smart person. But the way that we understand and process information is very different.

The best way that I can describe this is in how Chris and I have studied and can discuss the Civil War. Chris knows a lot about the Civil War, far more than I do. He knows about the generals, the battles, the troop movements, and the military reasons for the success and failure of different campaigns.

I tend to view the world on a systemic level. And so my work on the Civil War has focused more on the systemic issues that were at play in causing the South treasonously leave the Union, what the actual reasons for the Civil war were for both the North and the South, and most importantly, the systemic issues and ramifications from before and after the Civil War that we are still dealing with today.

Spoiler Alert: Chris and I agree that in the south, the civil war was fought over the state’s right to have an economic system predicated on owning other humans. While the North had moved away from a slavery-based economy to an industrial economy that thrived by providing goods to the Antebellum south. But the soldiers on the Northern side didn’t fight to abolish slavery, as is commonly believed. The North fought to preserve the Union.

But that was just an aside. The real point of this story is to show that Chris and I are both very smart, and the two of us are able to have difficult conversations because we respect one another, even though we occasionally speak about the same things in different ways. We do, however, listen to one another and learn together.

I tell this story because I think it’s important to point out that intelligence comes in different forms and expressions. Some people are great at math. Some are great at remembering historical facts and figures. Some people are good at languages. Some people can fix machines. Or make things. Or understand children. Or dogs. Some people are organized. Some people can view the same issue from multiple angles and share what they learn. Some people can write beautifully and creatively. Some people can make art. Some can make us laugh

And we are all intelligent in our own ways.

Being intelligent, being smart, those are things that can be learned and developed, often in classrooms, but not always. I am filled with knowledge because of my time in classrooms.

I have come to appreciate a couple of things about knowledge. First, the more you know about something, the more knowledge you have in a field, the more you realize what you don’t know. And, also that there’s a big difference between knowledge and intelligence, and between knowledge and wisdom.

I’m an intelligent person. But my knowledge of the facts of the Civil War is small. That doesn’t make me unintelligent, it just makes me not an expert on the troop movements and the battles of the Civil War.

My buddy Chris is a smart guy. That he didn’t go to college doesn’t change that he’s a smart guy. And some of the things that he has seen and experienced have given him a wisdom beyond anything that I would be able to learn about in a classroom.

Readings like the ones we have today really make me consider the difference between intelligence and wisdom.

Readings like these encourage me to take a deep breath, and really consider the places where I am relying on my own intelligence instead of trusting the wisdom of God.

This is complicated because it can be really difficult to discern the wisdom of God. It’s difficult for a lot of reasons. But the biggest struggle for me is to figure out when it’s my knowledge talking, or God’s Wisdom. Or when it’s the world talking, instead of God’s Wisdom. Or a combination there of. Or one of those rare, blissful moments, when I’m actually on the same page as the Wisdom of God!

What the world says we should be doing is incredibly blinding. Especially when what the world, or society says is right aligns with what we want to do anyway!

There’s an example of this in the Gospel today. Jesus says that he will have to suffer and die, and Peter pulls Jesus aside to tell Jesus not to say those things.

I really appreciate the audacity of this scene. A guy, who is following Jesus to learn how to be more like Christ, is pulling Jesus aside to tell him he’s wrong.

I laugh at this scene. Until I remember that it happens every day. Every day.

Humans, every day, attempt to correct God about what is right, or best, or needed.

There are a lot of ways that we do this. A lot. I’m sure that as we sit here, a few thought bubbles of this are happening.

Throughout history, there has been an attempt to claim that God ordained something that humans wanted to do. The wars that Kings waged in Medieval Europe to expand empires. The Crusades. Manifest Destiny. Colonization. Slavery. Racism. Violent Jihad. The Prosperity Gospel. Violence against LGBTQ identifying people. Refusing to bake a cake for the wedding of those LGBTQ identifying people.

My point, is that this has been happening for as long as there have been humans trying to figure out the difference between what God wants and what we want.

I have a proposition. I propose that we, the humans who are alive now. I propose that we be the ones who finally, truly, honestly, and vulnerably, spend time to actually figure out the difference between what we want and what God wants.

Here are a couple of useful road signs, courtesy of Richard Roar: if something is violent, warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, or vain, it’s not of God.

Now, note, I’m not saying that we always have to do what God wants. I would suggest that we should. But what I’m suggesting is to be honest with ourselves and others about why we’re doing something; that’s actually all I’m looking for. You can still occasionally be greedy, or selfish, not violent or warlike or racist – let’s just get rid of those things, but I will be the first to admit, I’m vain at times.

But let’s own that it is us and our will, not us doing what we think God wants, when we are greedy, selfish, or vain.

For example: You’re against immigration. Fine. But why? And I ask that as a person who has spent a lot of time gaining knowledge about God and Scripture, and that knowledge leads me to believe that what Jesus said in the Scriptures is what I should be aiming for, and Jesus says to welcome the stranger. To treat everyone the way we would want to be treated.

You think being Gay or Trans is a sin. Fine. But own where that comes from, and that it is something within you, and not God. Because the word “Homosexual” wasn’t even invented until the last century. And God still looks at each of us and thinks we are perfect, including those who are born trans and those who are born gay (and believe me, you are born trans or gay, it’s not something one just wakes up and decides to be one day).

Think the races should be separate? Fine. But own the racism and hate within that belief, and don’t claim that God made it so. Because God made this beautiful rainbow of humanity. Every single color.

“Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: ‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?”

How long do we need to live this way? How long do we need to ignore God, as she stands at the gates, waiting to be invited in. How long do we, as a collective we, not just individuals, how long will we leave God waiting?

How long will we set our minds on human things instead of Divine things? How long will we mistake our knowledge for the Wisdom of God? How many Civil Wars must be waged until we are finally able to admit when it is our will instead of God’s Wisdom?

How long until we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ?  For if we want to save our lives, we must lose them. Because, really, what do we actually gain if we gain all the things in the world, but forfeit our lives, and the reason we live?

What would you be willing to give up to follow Christ? Anything? What’s the one thing you would give up everything for? Does that point to love? If it points to love, it points to God.

And if it doesn’t, well…

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