When our children leave the house and venture somewhere without us, we Americans tell them, “Be good.” But what is it to be good? It is my experience that people hold very differing opinions of goodness. A good decision is to look both ways before crossing the street, but doing such does not make one a good person. There is more to being good than what meets the public’s eye – neither rote nor superficiality nor impression has a place in goodness.
The French tell their children, “Sois sage,” which means, “Be wise.”When their children are ready to go forth into the world, French parents want their children to make wise decisions. This has always made more sense to me than “be good.” Wisdom requires profundity, of action, yes, but action based on thought. A sage thinks. The French have a word for careful, thoughtful consideration of something: réfléchir.
King Solomon is remembered for his profound wisdom, his sound judgment. He prayed for shomea – Hebrew for “listening” – i.e., a heart that heard and obeyed God. (1 Kings 3:9) He wanted not only to hear God in order to distinguish right from wrong, but he also asked for the ability to apply this wisdom to his life and to his decisions. I want this, too, probably more than any other ideal, and as difficult as it might be for a wretched mortal like myself to believe, this sort of wisdom is possible for all of us. But the first step in attaining it is seeking it, awareness of it.
For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion, and she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity. For she is an aura of the might of God and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty; therefore, naught that is sullied enters into her. In Wisdom is a spirit intelligent, holy, unique, Manifold, subtle, agile, clear, unstained, certain, Not baneful, loving the good, keen, unhampered, beneficent, kindly, Firm, secure, tranquil, all-powerful, all-seeing, And pervading all spirits, though they be intelligent, pure, and very subtle. For she is the refulgence of eternal light, the spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of his goodness. And she, who is one, can do all things, and renews everything while herself perduring; And passing into holy souls from age to age, she produces friends of God and prophets. For there is naught God loves, be it not one who dwells with Wisdom. For she is fairer than the sun and surpasses every constellation of the stars. Compared to light, she takes precedence; for that, indeed, night supplants, but wickedness prevails not over Wisdom. Indeed, she reaches from end to end mightily and governs all things well. (Wisdom 7:22b-8:1)
Wisdom, ostensibly, is a reflection of God. The person who strives for wisdom, strives to be good and just and righteous, not only for himself, but for others. The obstacle to wisdom, in my experience, is people themselves – those who do not think but only act, regardless of the pain they cause for themselves or others. Though wisdom cannot conquer suffering, it does offer trust instead of fear, and an understanding of unconditional love in this world, despite people. Wise decisions are a catalyst for the seemingly unattainable notions of benevolence, and righteousness, and hope. Yes, I dare say hope because believing in the possibility of wisdom means that I have hope.
The mouth of the just murmurs wisdom.
Commit to the Lord your way; trust in him, and he will act.
He will make justice dawn for you like the light; bright as the noonday shall be your vindication.
The mouth of the just man tells of wisdom and his tongue utters what is right.
The law of his God is in his heart, and his steps don’t falter.
The salvation of the just is from the Lord; he is their refuge in time of distress.
And the Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37)