I have noticed that many people think gaining portions of knowledge means that they do not need to learn anymore. At some point, education is no longer necessary, and to know something is the end all be all of existence. In New England, I’ve experienced knowledge acquisition as a commodity, and relationships are based on stories of what you know about this and that. This mentality harms people because there are other dimensions of knowledge that flow from our ability to build an ethic – to live a life based on what we know. I see people speed read and then throw books to the side without truly devouring the content in order to get through a class rather than applying it to their lives, and making the message a part of their self. I believe that it does not follow logically that if a person “knows a lot” (has knowledge), then therefore, they are a “wise person.” Not that this is a huge deal semantically because sometimes people use the term Knowledgeable as if it were the word Wise, but the two words are very different. Take a look:
A) Knowledgeable: adjective, possessing or exhibiting knowledge, insight, or understanding; intelligent; well-informed; discerning; perceptive.*
B) Wise: adjective, having the power of discerning and judging properly as to what is true or right; possessing discernment, judgment, or discretion.*
This is where I really start thinking about the dichotomy between knowledge and wisdom, and since I’ve been off of coffee for a week, bear with me and hold me accountable if I don’t make sense.
It seems self evident that knowledge is the foundation, or the prerequisite for the ability to be wise; or to “have the power of discerning and judging properly”, especially discerning what is right and wrong and living a high ethic. It doesn’t seem to mean much to be right or wrong in a relativistic culture that claims that there are no absolutes? (Everyone’s way is the right way.) If wisdom is based on the ability to observe the world as it is, and make decisions based on how the world is working, then one is able to work their life for Good. I suppose that in a Relative World there is no Wisdom, because there is no common ground to communicate what is Good in the first place – In a world that absolutely claims there are no absolutes, there can be no basis for growth through common communication of agreed upon ideas (absolutes) and order breaks down. Human groups become unwieldy and inefficient because of this light chaos. But our leanings toward socialism in urban cultures means that we do have some common basis for living together, so the question becomes: “Where do our absolutes come?”
In order to have a society forming absolute, there has to be a major claim to what is True, what is Good, and it has to come from somewhere. And humans have such a hard time thinking things through logically because to be honest, most of us are lazy in our thought lives. In order to make the wisest of all decisions, there would have to be people devoted to the discipline of knowing as much about life (philosophers) and gaining as much data as possible (scientists, statisticians, mathematicians, etc.) so that when making decisions they would be able to take everything in the universe into account to determine what is ultimately the best possible course of action in all possible situations.
If one had achieved all knowledge, and having wielded the ability to make the best possible decisions, that person would have become some sort of god. A god in the sense that no other person would be able to relate to that All Knowing Sage unless they too came to possess all knowledge (or at least the most knowledge). Those who do not have all the data, would ponder to the ends of their ability to see why the Philosopher decided what was right in their wisdom, but because of the limitations of knowledge, the regular observer would either accept god man’s decisions as law, or begin to see the Wise One as unwise and begin revolts against the divine’s authority. Most likely, the wise one would be overthrown, and the god would be destroyed until others followed in the footsteps of the Wise one (ex. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc.).
Above the god man, there is also the God. In a society that accepts the possibility of a creator, there is a source to seek wisdom from, and the human is freed from the crushing responsibility of being a “god.” The one who claims to have created the Universe, God, also claims to be the All-Knower and the All Good Do-er. Unfortunately though, God is in the same place as the “god” in the sense that the limited perspectives of God’s subjects would create a canyon of what God is, and what people can possibly understand. The religious call this divide mystery. The wise One would be revolted against, because the decisions of God would be misunderstood in various ways (scriptures are the story of these misunderstandings), and eventually they would deem God a lunatic, and out of touch with reality (human reality). The problem with warring against the God of the Universe is, that God, if he is God, would have control of the Universe, and a war would not be successful. It would look very foolish to fight God, if God’s claims to existence in revelation are true.
The bridge to God could be reconnected in different ways: (1) The people devoted to knowledge could seek to use their knowledge to make Wise decisions like the All Knower, and in this bring what scriptures call “Righteousness” or “Justice” to their societies (referred to from the beginning to the end of the Bible; ex. Isaiah). Wise ones (Philosophers), studying God’s ways (making them Theologians) would seek to make wise decisions (A State/Government) and convince the common person that they should seek the wisdom and knowledge of God (central truth) as well and bring about A Great Society (The Just Society, ex. Ancient Isreal) for Good (Love of God and Neighbor) that depends on the overhead’s Wise decisions and divine law (Pentateuch, Torah) and chaos and division could potentially decline as people act wise towards one another (or in an unjust society, be persecuted for calling the people to do so; ex. The Prophets). But groups fail to live up to this Great Society unless focused on some objective real/truth. So, (2) becomes important: All people would need to look towards God as an example of perfection, and seek perfect Wisdom individually/inwardly, over and above what knowledge they have attained. Their quest would never be complete because the created creature would be infinitely smaller than the Creator, but each second of “time” in eternity would be a footstep in the right direction – towards the Perfect one – towards a more Perfect Understanding – from faith towards the reason for God, and finding Hope in the concrete existence of the All-Knower, the One whose thoughts brought us and Creation about, whose breath sustains us, and whose spirit guides the Wisest of the Human Race. This would be a relationship with God, on God’s terms, from God’s perspective as God reaches out to us, gives us mercy as we err, and loves us because we bear His image (imago dei, Genesis) and have been charged to take care of his world.
True wisdom, according to Jewish “Wisdom Literature” comes from the Fear of God. It is said once in the Book of Job. I won’t give you the reference because I want you to read it if you haven’t had the chance (ps – do it in one sitting and treat it as a play). It is truly an amazing book that shows with both certainty and mystery, above our reason, giving us insight into God’s ways which are not like our ways. When a human (even the wisest and most accomplished of us) gets a chance to meet God as recorded in various points in scripture, the human would fall to their knees in awe and wonder, wondering why they thought God was so small and capable of being put within our boxes, our limited understanding. I imagine this moment and wonder at the high point of Job when he is completely changed by God’s Just, Holy, Presence. He said: (some paraphrased), “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be restrained. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without my knowledge?’ Therefore, I have said many things without understanding, things too wonderful for me to know. You said ‘Pay attention and I will speak; I will question you, and you will answer me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye has seen you. Therefore I despise myself, and I repent in dust in ashes.” Job is humbled in the presence of this God of the Universe, and powerfully is confronted with his own smallness (and yet he and his ignorance are not destroyed by God). Job becomes blessed, and in his relation to God, he finds himself in relationship to God rather than thinking of himself as a god, and he has transcended beyond the knowledge tree and the basic “good life” of human understanding, and found wisdom in the fear of the only thing in the universe that deserves to be feared – God – because of his true awe and power beyond our human understanding.
So truly, the difference between knowledge and wisdom is quite stark but is connected. Knowledge is knowledge, but there is always more. When we understand our place in the universe, wisdom is unleashed, and man may be used by God to judge rightly in reverence for the order of God (Justice), soon people are saved from evil and cared for, and the world becomes more good. Though never perfect under our own governments, as individuals become wise on a mass scale, the burden of the whole world becomes lighter, especially when God is allowed to bear much of the load.
What do you think about Knowledge and Wisdom? (comment below)
If you have time, this is a video that a friend of mine placed on his blog (http://hopeinfailure.blogspot.com/) that I thought was somewhat relevant and very worshipful.