Christmas may be long past, but the One who gave us His Son wrapped in strips of cloth that day is the Giver who keeps on giving. He gives the gift of wisdom, and of its accessory, fairness, to His people day-in and day-out. These gifts are hard to hang onto. Nonetheless, trusting in Christ’s promise of new life and deliverance powers our ability to view the world with perceptive sensitivity and, therefore, to treat others fairly in the way we think and the way we experience life.
Wisdom is indeed a gift worthy of a king, as Solomon demonstrated when he prayed for wisdom to discern between good and evil, so he could carry out the tasks assigned him as governor of his people (1 Kings 3:9). It combines elements of discernment of right and wrong, justice and injustice, positive and negative impacts, with the ability to estimate the significance of subtle changes within the contexts of nature, individual life, and society. It senses and recognizes which actions convey the peace and order of Eden and which distract from the good, disrupt the beneficial, and destroy what God has given. Wisdom describes that which enables us to practice the cardinal virtue of prudence, an abbreviated form of pro-videntia, the ability to see ahead and sense what the implications are of contemplated actions and past and present experiences.
“Wisdom” has recently largely disappeared from the vocabulary of the public area in North America as a designation of those on whom we can count for exemplary leadership in pursuit of the good. In the last half-century, we look instead to political and business leaders to be experts, knowledgeable, proficient, and professional specialists. We prize those who produce immediate results over those who perceive what frames that production with the plan and will of the Creator, the source of that which produces enduring benefits. Thus, we look to those who provide short-term, even if simplistic, solutions and who promise speedy satisfaction. Seldom do we hear our leaders in society described as “wise.”
Wisdom is not measurable in the ways that knowledge or expertise are. Wisdom recognizes the cracks in life and sees what must happen in between them. Wisdom leads into the perilous ground between what can be known for certain according to the epistemologies controlled by human judgments—usually societally agreed upon—and what lies just beyond the reach of such certainties. Wisdom makes decisions that pursue the good when we face two or more good options or when we confront only choices among which none are good.
Trusting in Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin permits us to continue to recognize evil as evil even when pursuit of the common good leads us to a decision we would not normally make. For trusting in Christ anchors our identity in Him, not in our works. Wisdom grounded in our Lord sees beyond what devices we have fashioned to master and manipulate our world and our lives. It looks to the deeper rhythms and structures of daily existence that are grounded on the foundation of the Creator’s own word.
Wisdom grounded in our Lord…looks to the deeper rhythms and structures of daily existence that are grounded on the foundation of the Creator’s own word.
Fearing—that is, listening in awe and wonder—to the Lord initiates wisdom. Insight into the way life works arises ultimately out of the Holy One of Israel (Proverbs 9:10). During his encounters with his God, who defied his understanding, Job confessed that wisdom not only stems from this fear of the Lord but also that wisdom turns to Him and flees from evil (Job 28:28). Apart from finding its foundation in hearkening to our Creator, human wisdom builds on sand. But wisdom gives strength for placing experiences of all kinds in the context of what God is doing in and with His world (Ecclesiastes 7:19). God’s wisdom sees through all the obfuscation thrown in our paths by the Liar. God’s wisdom counters Satanic deception in all its forms by appearing foolishly on the cross (1 Corinthians 1:25, 2:7, 13). The cross expresses God’s wisdom, for there He ultimately defeated the Liar and brought us back into trusting harmony with Himself and loving concord with other human creatures.
Wisdom softens the face and lets it shine (Ecclesiastes 8:1) as it looks at both people and events that may challenge our ability to show God’s love to others. Wisdom enables human beings to treat each other fairly—as they would want others to treat them. Fairness is one of the most important by-products and symptoms of wisdom. Fairness is the application of seeing the deeper structures and finer lines of life behind the clutter and rubble of daily encounters with evils of one kind or another. Fairness arises out of respect for other people as creatures of God, no matter what might be despicable about them.
Fairness arises out of respect for other people as creatures of God, no matter what might be despicable about them.
Luther and Melanchthon borrowed the word epikeia from Aristotle but, as with many words passed-on by medieval teachers, they altered its meaning a bit. Indeed, the frequent definition of epikeia in the Nichomachean Ethics, “reasonableness,” captures what Aristotle intended so long as people have a common definition of reason, shaped by God’s plan for human life. The Wittenberg reformers went beyond this definition, deepening to convey the moral stance and mindset of “fairness.” Fairness, doing to others what you would want them to do to you, captures something of what the ancient Greek philosopher meant with his assertion of the “golden mean” as a guide to human action.
The Wittenberg theologians, however, believed the Christian life is guided by an epikeia that goes beyond finding some middle point between opposites. Their definition embraces a sense of human integrity that welcomes God’s shape for human life, treating others with fairness, that is, with concern for their welfare, a commitment to helping, protecting, and providing for them in need. This fairness recognizes behind all the blemishes and blameworthy actions of others the worth of those whom God created and those for whom Christ died. Fairness arises from striving to treat others the way we would like them to treat us. Fairness recognizes both the dignity and the dilemmas of those whom we encounter. Fairness treats every other person as a creature whom God made in His own image, a person whose life is worth the blood of Christ. Being unfair simply misses the mark God has set for our living in a community of mutual respect and love. When fairness fails or vanishes, manipulation and exploitation of others governs human action. Such defiance and contradiction of God’s design for human life compromises and fatally damages those who find fairness too high a price to pay for being truly human. But the degradation and debasement of others actually are acts of degrading and debasing the integrity of the person who is doing the degrading and debasing. Thus, rejection of treating others fairly always stems from the foolishness which ultimately results from not knowing God (Psalm 14:1).
Sinners turned in upon themselves, as Luther describes us, tend to flee to fortresses in which there is no space for others, especially others who present the challenges of love and care. Wisdom perceives God’s presence all around us. His presence opens up our minds and our arms to embrace others, to address what they need, and to lead those who are straying back to God’s wisdom. Wisdom reaches out to support the struggling in their search for what is the will and wisdom of God for their own lives. Wisdom reflects and embodies God’s way of dealing with the world and conceiving of reality. And wisdom endures.