A wise man fears, and departs from evil; but the fool rages, and is confident. Proverbs 14:16
Wise Man – Here’s a little self-assessment test. It will help you determine if your view of life is biblically-based or a part of the dominant culture of the West. It’s about your perception of wisdom.
Do you think that wisdom results in an inner harmony? Do you believe that the proper application of reason will bring you inner peace? Do you find that emotions (either positive or negative) upset the balance of your life?
The classical Greek view of wisdom includes two poles. The first is ataraxia. This pole is mental stability or peace of mind. According to the Greeks, happiness is a state of mind; a state where external circumstances no longer cause me mental distress; where I am above it all in unperturbed harmony. According to the Greeks, one of the goals of the wise man is to avoid emotional disruptions if possible and, when avoidance is impossible, reduce them to rational deliberation. This latter process is the other pole of the Greek view of wisdom – apatheia – indifference to whatever disturbs mental harmony. On the one pole, the Greeks did all they could to avoid nasty emotions. On the other pole, they did all they could to become independent, self-sufficient and detached. The wise man was immune and unaffected by life’s turmoil and tragedies. Reason controls everything. If you have a problem or you’re upset, the answer will be found in reasoning about the situation in order to remove the disturbing influences.
How much of your thinking about life’s upsets is really based in the Greek model?
What does the Bible have to say about this? The wise man is hakam. Actually, the word is an adjective, not a noun. It conveys the idea of skill and experience. A person described by hakam is an able leader, an interpreter of dreams, one who knows the law, one who learns, who heeds rebuke and who controls his tongue. Oh, did you notice there is no mention of intellectual capacity? And there is not even a hint at detachment from life’s emotional roller-coaster. In fact, one who has skills and experience is probably someone who has lived through a lot of ups and downs. The biblical view of wisdom is not about inner harmony or peace of mind. It is about full engagement in living. The wise man knows how to step into the world. He knows what to pursue and what to fear (notice the word is not avoid). He knows when to let go and when to leave. The wise man exhibits the character of God – engaged, prudent, understanding and discerning.
Does wisdom result in inner harmony? Probably not. The wise man knows when his skills and experience are needed in the midst of conflict. He is a peace-maker, not a peace-taker. Does he avoid emotions? Only if he is not merciful, long-suffering and compassionate. Does he attempt to resolve upsetting circumstances with the right application of reason? Didn’t we just read about “My ways are not your ways?” What is ahav (love) if it is not benevolence toward another at cost to myself? Is that reasonable?
The exam is over. How did you do?
Topical Index: wise man, hakam, ataraxia, apatheia, emotions, reason, Proverbs 14:16