The wise and discerning person

 

“In the literature of Scripture, wisdom is, broadly speaking, the knowledge of God’s world and the knack of fitting oneself into it.

The wise person knows creation. He knows its boundaries and limits, understands its laws and rhythms, discerns its times and seasons, respects its great dynamics. He understands that creation possesses its own integrity and significance quite apart from his claim on it, and quite apart from any possibility that creation will make him happy.

The wise person gives in to creation, and he gives in to God, and he does the first because he does the second. He knows that the earth is the Lords, and so the fullness thereof. He knows that wisdom itself is the Lord’s. He knows some of the deep grains and textures of the world because he knows some of the ways and habits of its maker.

In the biblical view, the wise are righteous and the righteous are wise: these are people who love and fear God, affirm Gods world, live gladly within its borders, and make music there according to divine time and key signatures. The wise are always in order. Insofar as they live right, they also live well. The Book of Proverbs doesn’t for the most part even bother to distinguish righteousness and wisdom: it pairs righteousness with wisdom and wickedness with folly in such a way that the distinction between a moral judgment and a prudential one fades.

In Scripture more generally, the standard for judging the course of a human life includes a blend of morality, prudence, metaphysics, and religion. Thus the Scripture writers exhort, but they also instruct. As Frederick Buechner once pointed out:

The Bible is not first of all a book of moral truth. I would call it instead a book of truth about the way life is. Those strange old scriptures present life as having been ordered in a certain way, with certain laws as inextricably built into it as the law of gravity is built into the physical universe. When Jesus says that whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life will save it, surely he is not making a statement about how, morally speaking, life ought to be. Rather, he is making a statement about how life is.

Wisdom is a reality-based phenomenon. To be wise is to know reality, to discern it. A discerning person notices things, attends to things, picks up on things. He notices the difference between tolerance and forgiveness, pleasure and joy, sentimentality and compassion.

Where high-profile athletes are concerned, he can tell the difference between celebrities and heroes. He can spot real humility and keep it distinct in his mind from its thinner cousin, unpretentiousness. (Consider the ambiguity of the claim, He’s a humble man, which might mean that the man virtuously sees others as his equal, or else might mean that he leads a lowly life and never pretends otherwise.)

Discernment, in other words, shows a kind of attentive respect for reality. Thus the discerning person notices not only the differences between things, but also the connections between them. He knows what God has put together and what God has kept asunder, and can therefore spot the fractures and alloys introduced by human violation of creation. He knows, for instance, the way a particular sort of request can contaminate a friendship.

Moreover, he possesses an eye for such oddities of reality as the anxieties that sometimes lie behind overbred chitchat, namedropping, and the overuse of foreign phrases at dinner parties. He knows that kindness sometimes coexists with stupidity and integrity with humorlessness. He knows that people full of shadows may also be full of a light that causes them.

In these and other respects, Lewis Smedes remarks, a discerning person has the makings of a connoisseur.

But such cognitive discernment, as Smedes calls it, isnt enough. The really discerning person, the one whose discernment marks genuine wisdom, does not merely inspect reality, or analyze it: the one who discerns also loves. He possesses what Jonathan Edwards called benevolence to being in general.

At some level, he affirms the reality he knows, and even commits himself to it. … To discern realities at their deeper levels, we have to become engaged in them, to bring both empathy and care to what we know. Discernment of the hopes and fears of other persons, for example, depends on compassion for them: knowledge of these persons comes in to us only if our hearts go out to them. Only so, Smedes remarks, can we see behind the status of divorce, or homosexuality, or disability to discover complex persons who possess wholeness greater than their troubles, gifts unseen by the unloving.

To be wise, then, is to know and affirm reality, and to speak and act accordingly. The wise accommodate themselves to reality. They go with the flow. They tear along the perforated line. They attempt their harvests in season.” (Cornelius Planinga Jr., “Not The Way It’s Suppose to Be”)

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Discernment, Fools, Wisdom. Bookmark the permalink.

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