Wisdom: A Matter of Life and Death

Experts estimate that there are now over 1.3 trillion gigabytes of online information at our fingertips. That’s the equivalent of a stack of fully loaded iPads 339 miles high. When information is that ubiquitous, it can begin to consume our entire lives.

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Sadly, the majority of this online information that garners our attention is ephemeral, disposable and forgotten within minutes. It’s like junk food for the mind. We possess more information than ever, but I think we can all agree that society doesn’t seem to be wiser for it. We desperately need to feed our mind with pure spiritual food: perennial, powerful wisdom that can be skillfully applied to our relationships, decisions, and circumstances. Where do we find this wisdom? Much of it is concentrated in what we call the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, books like Proverbs, Sirach, Wisdom, and others.

Biblical wisdom is more than tweet-sized aphorisms or biblical “life-hacks” for practical living. For the authors of the Bible, wisdom was a matter of life and death. It was a carefully learned skill. In fact, the Hebrew word used for wisdom in the Old Testament ( chokmah) literally means “skill.” It is also used to describe the creative gifts of a temple artist (Exodus 35:31), an experienced sailor (Psalm 107:27) or a master goldsmith (Jeremiah 10:9). In each case, these experts had to apprentice under a master, learning the skill of applying their wise words to daily life.

Few of us have the advantage of spending time at the feet of a true spiritual master, but the Sacred Scriptures have given us access to that ancient wisdom. Biblical authors collected the greatest wisdom of their time eventually committing it to a written form so that we could hear and benefit from those sages today.

I mentioned that in Bible times, gaining wisdom was a matter of life and death, and that’s no less true today. If the Church is going to flourish in the West, we need to reconnect with biblical wisdom.

I was recently a delegate at the USCCB Convocation on the Gospel of Joy in Orlando, Florida. This event gathered over 3,000 clergy and lay leaders selected by dioceses around the U.S. to share resources and insights on how the Church can effectively propose the Gospel to our culture and stem the growing tide of people leaving the Church. The statistics are staggering and sobering. For every one new Catholic, there are as many as six leaving the Church. These and other statistics were like discovering your mother has late stage cancer. We can deny, finger point, become angry, or we can act to treat the disease if Mother Church is to survive and thrive in western culture. All of us need to re-think how we are making and keeping disciples in light of the many challenges of our time.

The key isn’t to make Christianity more flashy, fun, or hip. Studies indicate that ultimately the megachurch concert-style Christian service is not only unsatisfying but ineffective in keeping people in the pews. Again and again, listening to the panels and presentations, I was struck by the need to re-connect modern people with ancient wisdom.

David Kinnaman of the Barna Group, which has arguably done more in depth research on the challenges facing Christianity than any other organization over the last three decades, puts it well, “Young adults are digital natives immersed in a glossy pop culture that prefers speed over depth, sex over wholeness, and opinion over truth.” He suggests that if any of us hope to make sense of and live faithfully in our rapidly changing culture, we will require “massive doses of wisdom.”

He and others suggest we need to help spiritual seekers within and without the Church see that God’s wisdom can speak into their careers, marriage and family life, friendships, and even finances.

It’s part of what motivated Jeff Cavins and I to create our latest offering, Wisdom: God’s Vision for Life. We recognize the urgency for Catholics—young and old—to recover the wisdom of God, reflect on it together, and help one another apply it to our lives.

In a world that is changing at the speed of light, God’s wisdom can be a sure, steady foundation for each of us now and a sure means for the Church flourishing in the future.


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Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is the co-author of Revelation: The Kingdom Yet to Come and The Prophets: Messengers of God's Mercy. He is an international presenter for The Great Adventure Bible Timeline. Bringing a wealth of experience and insight on the Word of God to audiences across the U.S., Thomas is a repeat guest on EWTN and Catholic radio as well as a sought after parish mission and conference speaker. Thomas Smith has taught as an adjunct professor at the St. Francis School of Theology in Denver, and is the former Director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School and the Denver Catechetical School. He lives on his family ranch in southeastern Idaho and writes for his website www.gen215.org.

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