Sometimes, I can be so clueless. Thus, having posted several reflections on what Paul had to say to the Corinthians about wisdom, I can’t move on without reflecting briefly on the personal significance of his words for me.
Recently, I had a conversation in which a person paid me a high compliment, suggesting that I must have been a mature and wise person by the age of 14. But I know better (and so does my mother). And when I married at the ripe old age of 21, I still had a lot of growing up to do (just ask my wife).
Now I’m more than three decades riper and older still. And guess what? I still have some growing up to do. I’m wiser than I was, but not nearly as wise as some people seem to think I am.
Not long ago, I did and said something quite dumb, something I wouldn’t have done if I had thought about it for even a moment. The man I offended was justifiably angry and let me know it, even as he tempered his words with grace. I knew immediately that I was wrong, just as immediately apologized, and all was well. But I carried with me from the room a deep sense of shame for having been so thoughtless.
I aspire to be wiser; don’t you? But there are those days in which that seems like too much to ask. Just being a little less stupid than the day before seems like a more manageable goal.
It’s an occupational hazard. More is expected of the person with the graduate degrees and professional titles, the one who stands up in front of others to teach and preach. The letter of James helps put things in perspective:
My brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers, because we know that we teachers will be judged more strictly. We all make mistakes often, but those who don’t make mistakes with their words have reached full maturity. Like a bridled horse, they can control themselves entirely. …Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. (Jas 3:1-2, 13)
I value what I do for a living. I believe that it is my God-given vocation, and mercifully, most days I walk without stumbling. But academia also brings the temptation to think more highly of ourselves than we ought (Rom 12:3). The temptation is to lose myself too deeply in the role of the wise professional that some people think I am, to take too much for granted, to speak without thinking. And in so doing, I move away from being one who stands humbly on God’s wisdom and the gospel of a crucified Messiah.
“Don’t fool yourself,” Paul says. “If some of you think they are worldly-wise, then they should become foolish so that they can become wise” (1 Cor 3:18, CEB). I know what it means to be found a fool. What remains is to value the right kind of foolishness, the kind through which comes true wisdom, the wisdom of God.
Lord, have mercy.