What is the point of going to school? We've all fallen asleep in class at least once in our lives! Sometimes (in fact more often than not) the teaching we receive seems completely irrelevant to the issues we are facing.
Let’s be honest, as a high school kid we would much rather be hanging out at McDonald's, or watching TV, or catching Pokémon. We don't want to be learning about Shakespeare, or mitosis, or probability.
Despite these objections, school is there to give us guidance on how to live life. While some of the concepts seem irrelevant, they are still worth knowing so that we can function in the world today.
Chapter four of the book of Proverbs has the same aim. It is a father addressing his son and giving him guidance on how to live life—the purpose of the whole book! The book discloses the general principles of life, like if you cheat on your spouse you will probably break up.
In this particular chapter the father counsels his son to live wisely and run from evil, as doing so will produce a long and healthy life.
But what is living wisely? How do you do this?
Wisdom is very highly praised in the Bible. The definition the Bible gives to wisdom is to fear the Lord; that is the beginning of it. But what does it mean?
The dictionary defines it as the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgment. The problem with this definition is that you have to be old in order to obtain it. Having experience comes from living, and naturally an 80 year old has done more living than a 15 year old. This seems very unfair and does seem to contradict common sense. Why write the book of Proverbs if only growing up gives you wisdom?
The definition which I found resolves these tensions is that wisdom is living in line with reality. Therefore stupidity (the opposite of wisdom) is living out of sync with reality. So, using the illustration above, not cheating on your spouse because you know that will lead to break up and pain is wise. The reverse, cheating on your spouse and expecting that no break up will happen afterwards, while still possible, is very stupid.
How to be wise
With this definition, it makes sense to crave wisdom. Proverbs chapter four emphasises this strongly. “Accept my words,” “keep hold of instruction,” “guard her” and “be attentive” are just some of the phrases the father uses to encourage his son to desire wisdom. The way we might word it today would be “Oi! Listen up!”
The last section of this chapter of Proverbs, verses 20–27, uses the body to illustrate how desperately you should strive to get wisdom:
My son, be attentive to my words;
incline your ear to my sayings.
Let them not escape from your sight;
keep them within your heart.
For they are life to those who find them,
and healing to all their flesh.
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you crooked speech,
and put devious talk far from you.
Let your eyes look directly forward,
and your gaze be straight before you.
Ponder the path of your feet;
then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
turn your foot away from evil.
This wisdom is to be desired above all else it seems.
Another way to be wise and not stupid is by staying away from wickedness. The father strongly emphasises that his son should stay away from doing wrong, from putting stumbling blocks in other's ways unnecessarily. This seems to most of us to be common sense but it is hard when others harm us. It makes me wonder: How am I going to react towards people who make life unpleasant for me?
The temptation is to put stumbling blocks in front of them. However, the wise thing to do is to pray and trust God, that He would help you to be patient. Let those in authority exact judgment, do not do it yourself or deliberate with others on how to get revenge. That's beneath us.
In fact, we are taught there will be suffering for those who follow Jesus. It’s part of the reality we live in. Sometimes we will suffer for other reasons too, and in all of it we are to be patient.
May I encourage you to live in light of reality, as this is the wise way to live.
Rachel Bartlett lives in Christchurch, New Zealand with her husband James and her puppy Pip. She helps out with after-school Bible studies on Wednesday afternoons.
Rachel Bartlett's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/Rachel-Bartlett.html