We live in an age where knowledge is more vast and profound than at any point in history. More people have access to more information and knowledge more easily and readily than ever before. There is more to know and more ways to learn it. This morning I have accessed the internet and reference books several times already. Knowledge is as close as my computer keyboard or a short walk to overflowing bookshelves.
The down side to so much knowledge is that we cannot all hold on to everything – it is too vast. We discover that there are more and more experts who specialise in narrow fields that go very deep but are not very wide. Scientists specialise more deeply and more narrowly into fields never before explored. They may know everything there is to know about one small part of this vast universe but little about the rest. I have often been frustrated in listening to patients in hospital who are moved around from specialist to specialist because they can only look at the person from their own narrow perspective and not relate symptoms more broadly or across specialties. The patient flounders in the space between these specialist’s expertise.
Knowledge is a wonderful thing. I have delighted in learning new things. I love knowledge and delving into the wonders of the world, of history, music and the arts, the way things work and so on. I love fixing things that are broken (rather than simply replacing them) – I have to learn how they work and then try to repair broken elements. Knowledge is good and important. It is a God-given gift.
Despite our vast access to and use of the breadth of knowledge available, we often lack wisdom. We know much but do not always know what it all means or how to use this knowledge wisely. Wisdom is critical and oft-ignored in using knowledge. For example, science has tremendous knowledge in a broad range of areas, always pushing back the frontiers but should we always seek to use that knowledge? Do we have the wisdom to use it safely and well? Do we need to use this knowledge or is it unwise? Should we continue to push the boundaries of nuclear weaponry when much of the world doesn’t have wisdom in their use (do we need them at all??)? How far do we go with human cloning…?
In the Biblical and other ancient traditions, wisdom was a critical virtue – especially for leaders. In the Hebrew wisdom books of the Old Testament, wisdom is a virtue that is personified as a feminine co-worker with God. Sometimes there is the sense that Wisdom (Sophia) is part of the essence of God – perhaps the Holy Spirit (also expressed in the feminine in Hebrew). Wisdom looks at the world from a different perspective. She invites us into the place of pondering, wondering and to take delight in the world God has made. It is a different place to that of our modern scientific paradigm. Instead of trying to dominate the world through knowledge, of gaining power over the unknown and ‘being like God’ through this pursuit, wisdom invites us into the place of experience and enjoyment of God’s creation. Whilst the modern world seeks to own, use, know and dominate, the ancient voice of wisdom, the feminine side of God, invites us into relationship with the world God has created. In the ancient book of wisdom called Proverbs (chapter 8) wisdom cries out to humans and invites them into the story of God creating. It is not a story that speaks of how – the scientific explanation of creation – but of the wonder of God creatively and playfully bringing the world into being. It is wonder and fun, enjoyment and delight. Wisdom was there with God and laughs and sings at the joyful placing of stars and planets, suns and moons, and of the beauty of the earth.
In our modern society there are essentially two ways in which humans interact with the world around. The dominant way is to subdue it, dominate it and use it. The earth is an economic resource that we are bound to exploit for our own purposes and gain. We mine, chop down, pollute, dig up and often destroy. Whilst this sounds very harsh, it is the essential reality of what we do to the earth. Yes, there are things we need from the ground – timber, iron and various minerals… Do we need to exploit the earth in such a dominant and abusive manner though? Do we really need everything we dig up or chop down? Is it genuine human need or economic greed?
The harder question is: What do we do with the mess we are making? Our knowledge has given us great power to exploit the earth but it has not recognised that we are creating waste at tremendous rates and don’t know how to contain it. We are like an aquarium without a filter and gradually our planet is filling up with the toxic mess of human waste. The atmosphere, the rivers and oceans and the land are filling up with the waste of human technological knowledge run rampant without the wisdom to use it well. Our knowledge of human weaponry is just as vast and impressive and our wisdom to use it is equally poor.
In the ancient stories of wisdom, humans are invited to stand back from their frenetic drive to know and dominate and to rest in the beauty and wonder of what exists. We are encouraged to create, as people created in the image of the Creator! We are invited, urged, to delight in the beauty of the world, its colour, diversity and wonder. We are encouraged to create art, music, crafts of all kinds and to enjoy the wonder of relationships. Sophia, wisdom, the feminine voice of God, welcomes us into relationship and nurtures us in the ways of welcome, hospitality and community. This alternate view of life is sustainable and delightful. It rejoices in the wonder of life rather than being burdened by the weight of responsibility and expectation that comes with a world of material excess and dominating power. When we feel the profound stress of life or the heavy weight of expectation or the burden of knowledge, wisdom cries out to us! She cries to come out of the city gates and run free in the wilds of the world of God’s beautiful creation. We are invited to rejoice in the garden, laugh in the rain, feel the warmth of the sun on our back and enjoy the little creatures that we share the earth with. We care for plants and trees and delight in their beauty reflected back. We care for the animals and creatures of the earth and wonder in their diversity and beauty. We share community with other people and God is in our midst!