The Beginning of Wisdom
There is a story told about one-time heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali. Ali was flying to one of his engagements and during the flight the aircraft ran into foul weather. Moderate turbulence began to toss the plane about. Of course, all nervous fliers well know that when a pilot signals “moderate turbulence,” he is implying, “If you have any religious beliefs, it is time to start expressing them.” The passengers were instructed to fasten their seat belts immediately, and all complied but Ali. So the flight attendant approached him and requested that he observe the captain’s order, only to hear Ali audaciously respond, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.” The flight attendant, however, did not miss a beat but quickly fired in reply, “Superman don’t need no airplane either!”
I draw attention to that story because I would like to consider the larger context in which many of us find ourselves. Some of us will be granted access to fine educations, others offered an array of possibilities for achievement. Many of us work diligently to position ourselves for extraordinary success in a rapidly-changing world. In any of these possible triumphs a sense of invincibility can be engendered—regardless of what measure of turbulence may lie ahead.
Yet unfortunately, academic or material advancement does not necessarily confer wisdom. How foolish it would be for us to take what generations preceding us have valued in coping with life’s turbulence and cast it all aside because we are “modern.” G.K. Chesterton aptly advised that before pulling any fences down, we should always pause long enough to find out why it was put there in the first place. British rock group King Crimson once sang a similar warning: “Knowledge is a deadly friend when no one sets the rules.” In other words, we need wisdom as we process and distill all knowledge. But where does one find it?
In one of his proverbs, King Solomon writes: “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding, for they are more profitable than silver and yield better returns than gold. Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with it” (Proverbs 3:13-15). From this same king we are told that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. In other words, reverence for God is where wisdom starts, recognition that there is a giver of knowledge and wisdom.
On days when we are tempted by thoughts of invincibility, might we remember that falsely posing as a superman will only ensure a crash landing. In places where we are overwhelmed by turbulent forces and despairing of instability, might we recall that humbly seeking wisdom and following it to its source will lift us to glorious heights.
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