16–22 December 2018.

Ecclesiastes 10 (click to read).

The Bible talks a lot about the importance of wisdom. And many of us really do appreciate just how valuable wisdom is. Sometimes we even sit back confidently and think how wisdom has a great power to shape our world and our lives. But sadly, the situation is not that easy.

Wisdom is important, it is valuable, but sadly it’s not particularly powerful – certainly not in the way the world understands power. On the contrary, wisdom is incredibly fragile. It can be pushed down, ignored, and even destroyed so easily. Wisdom is delicate, and defending it is a challenge. Maybe we like to think there is an equal balance in this world between wisdom and foolishness; maybe we even like to think that wisdom has the upper hand. But it’s not like that. That’s why Ecclesiastes 10:1 tells us plainly: “Just as one dead fly can cause even a bottle of perfume to stink, so even a little foolishness spoils great wisdom and honor.”

One of the big reasons for this unfair imbalance between foolishness and wisdom is simply the difference in effort that’s required between talking nonsense and speaking wisdom. It takes no effort to be ignorant; it takes no effort to shout out nonsense; it takes no effort to lie and fool ourselves into thinking we are smart; and it takes no effort at all to spread foolishness. But it takes a hundred times more effort to seek truth and truly learn from it. And it takes a thousand times more effort for wisdom to push back against nonsense. A well-known English proverb says: “A lie will go around the world while the truth is still putting its boots on.” Why is that?

First, some of us aren’t very concerned about learning what is really true. Some aren’t really interested in wisdom. Instead we feel quite satisfied with the little bit we think we already know. Many of us know how uncomfortable it is to be in class and have that one foolish student decide to argue with the teacher, thinking that he knows better. It’s just embarrassing to see people rejecting the teachings of experts and proudly thinking that their simple opinion is just as valid as solid, hard-won, and educated wisdom.

Second, wisdom is bound by the laws of logic and careful rationality, and following those laws it slowly and carefully builds up understanding. But foolishness isn’t bound by any laws, it can just do and say what it pleases, damaging the fragile structures that wisdom has painstakingly built. With lots of hard work we can create a beautiful stained-glass window, but it only takes one stone to smash it. Building wisdom takes time and effort, and is hard to do. But rejecting wisdom and destroying it is easy.

But by understanding this difference between fragile wisdom and destructive foolishness we can better examine ourselves and make sure our own behaviour isn’t being a problem. If we are humble in our attitude, open to listening, open to learning, curious to understand, and ready to be guided especially by those who know more, then we are certainly on the pathway to finding wisdom. But if our discussions with others are aggressive, if we find ourselves criticising and attacking others, if we aren’t willing to listen or learn, especially from those who are professionals, then it may be time for us to stop and examine the direction we are heading in.

“Even a little foolishness spoils great wisdom.” Of course none of us want to be destroyers of wisdom. So that’s a great reason for us to keep an eye on our own behaviour and attitude, and to always be open to seeking truth.

Pastor Stephen Lakkis