FEBRUARY 20, 2006

by Pastor George Van Alstine

I recently listened to a radio report about a new Website called “elderwisdom,â€? where younger people are encouraged to share some of their struggles with senior citizens and receive counsel on their real-life problems. The questions asked can range from how to start a worm farm, to how to deal with suicidal urges.

Senior volunteer counselors have to go through a background check and a training program. Even then, they are not allowed to dispense advice until their response email is screened by at least two other volunteer counselors.

The reason for all these precautions is that, while years of experience usually give a person a greater ability to make the right choice in certain complex life situations, this does not always add up to true wisdom. There is a Pennsylvania Dutch saying: “We grow too soon old and too late smart.â€? But even the “smartâ€? that older people usually grow into is not equivalent to wisdom. “Smartâ€? may give you the ability to respond in a better way to a situation in which you messed up when you were twenty, and this insight may be helpful to a twenty-year-old who asks for your advice today. But “smartâ€? does not help you respond to a brand new situation you’ve never confronted before. That requires wisdom.

Old does not necessarily equal wise. In fact, there is much truth to the saying “There’s no fool like an old fool.â€? Some people can live a hundred years and not gather an ounce of wisdom.

Job, the famous sufferer described in the Old Testament, received plenty of free advice from his counselors Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu. Their years of experience should have added up to enough wisdom to lift Job out of his pit, but Job heard only empty words. He compared his search for true wisdom to a miner’s journey underground to uncover rich treasure:
“Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold to be refined. Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is smelted from ore. . . . The earth’s stones are the place of sapphires, and its dust contains gold.â€? (Job 28:1-2, 6)

He described in graphic detail the great lengths miners go to to extract these riches from the earth. Then he asked,
“But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Mortals do not know the way to it, and it is not found in the land of the living. The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’ and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’ It cannot be gotten for gold, and silver cannot be weighed out as its price. It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire. Gold and glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal; the price of wisdom is above pearls. The chrysolite of Ethiopia cannot compare with it, nor can it be valued in pure gold. Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding?â€? (verses 12-20)

Finally, Job comes to this conclusion:
“God understands the way to it, and he knows its place . . . . And he said to humankind, ‘Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’ â€?(verses 23,28)

“Preacher, I knew you were going to say that. You religious folk always come up with the same simple answer: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ â€?

That’s true. The conclusion Job came to is the same one every believing person described in the Bible has finally settled on: “The fear of the Lordâ€?—or a proper respect for who God is—“is the beginning of wisdom.â€? All wisdom is built on this foundation—knowing and accepting God as he is.

One of the most humbling realities of life is to have to come back to lessons we learned in childhood, after years of trying to do things our own way, and to admit that our parents and Sunday School teachers were right all along. You can travel the world, read all the books, search the deepest mines, ride along on the next NASA space flight, and you’ll still have to come back to that basic truth:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.â€?

You can’t truly know anything until you know him.