Rembrandt's homage to philosopy - not the same as God's wisdom
David and Solomon, from Peterborough Cathedral, Cambridgeshire
Wisdom is like a yellow rose. May your garden be full.
THE PRINCIPAL THING
Wisdom: The Tenth Knightly Virtue
Ask any Christian, "What's the greatest thing about God?" Know what they'll say? Love, right? Well, maybe that's right, because I Corinthians 13 does say that out of faith, hope and love, the greatest is love. But what if wisdom, righteousness, truth, grace and holiness had been added to that list? Would love still be on top?
God isn't called Loving Spirit, He's called Holy Spirit. Proverbs doesn't say that love is the principal thing, it says wisdom is (Proverbs 4:7); and both Proverbs and Psalms say that the fear of the Lord - not the love of God - is the beginning of wisdom (Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 9:10). Solomon didn't ask for love when God told him he could have anything he wanted; he asked for wisdom (I Kings 3:5-12). Jesus isn't called Love, He's called Truth by John (John 14:6; 18:37,38) and Wisdom by Paul (I Corinthians 1:30 - While you're at it, read I Corinthians 2 as well - it's terrific.). And He didn't come to bring love; in the Gospel of John, the writer that talks about love more than any other, he says, "grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:14,17).
I'm not trying to belittle love; I'm just trying to get you to see that love is not all there is to God. As a matter of fact, if you tried to distill God down to just love, what you'd end up with is not the Hebrew and Christian God, but something more like the Roman god Venus, or the Greek god Aphrodite. Yet, isn't that pretty much what American Christians have done: made God into the god of love? We are love-crazy in this country. Why? Well, partly because most of the songs we've listened to since we were little kids are about love (like the Beatles song, "All You Need Is Love"), and partly because we're narcissists that believe "no one loves us as much as we would love us if we were they." (Thanks, Herschel.)
So, we're left with the golden calf of love and no God. That is the same mistake the Children of Israel made, only they chose strength and fertility over love. "Calf" is a bad translation in the Bible - it should be "bull." Bulls were worshipped in Egypt for their strength and fertility, and that's what the Children of Israel wanted to lead them back to Egypt: specifically, Apis, the sacred bull. If we had been there, we would have chosen Hathor, the Egyptian godess of love, to lead us back.
That's what paganism does: it distills God down to a single quality; when in reality, He is far, far bigger than that. As a matter of fact, if you took the Twelve Virtues that I'm talking about in this series on Knighthood, and put them together into a single god, you still wouldn't have the God of the Hebrews and Christians, because He is far, far bigger than even His twelve greatest qualities.
So, if there's one thing I would like you to take away from this article (but don't stop reading), it's this: God is bigger and more wonderful than any of us can imagine. There are many sides to Him, one of which is love; but another is justice, which, from an emotional standpoint, is almost the opposite of love. There's strength, power, majesty, wisdom, righteousness, truth, etc., etc. Don't put God into a box. Learn to love everything about Him, not just the things that are easy to love, like His love.
Which brings me to wisdom - it's the principal thing. Why? Because wisdom makes known God. How would you know that God is love if wisdom hadn't revealed it? King Solomon asked for wisdom because he knew that without it, nothing else would matter. Wisdom, which is knowledge applied, is how we know God.
The book of Proverbs, which Solomon wrote (or, at least wrote most of), is the greatest book of wisdom in the Bible. It was written to young people, but it is for everyone. It's interesting that false love, or lust (i.e., the affections of a "strange woman" or adulteress), is one of the primary themes in Proverbs. (See Proverbs 2:16-19 and Proverbs 5.) It's also interesting that true love (i.e., the affections of one's wife), is not the antidote Solomon prescribes: God's Word is. Compare what the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:9-12:
"How can a young man keep his way pure?
Marriage is not the answer to lust and impurity, or even loneliness: God's Word is.
Sadly, even Solomon allowed himself to become the victim of false love, having had a total of 1,000 wives and concubines, and being led by them away from God. So, he started well, but he let foolish influences and indulgences get the best of him. He didn't use the wisdom God had given him!
Lust caused Solomon to stumble, as it causes all men to stumble, and even grow cold towards God. Which is why purity, the opposite of lust, is the companion virtue to wisdom. They occur opposite each other on the Wheel of Virtues. Wisdom is in the number 10 position, and Purity in the number 4 spot. (You'll recall that I said the Wheel of Virtues is like a clock face, with one virtue for each number.) The reason for that will become clear once we get to the Armor of God, which I'll cover halfway through the series.
For now, suffice it to say that wisdom keeps a man from getting caught up in lust, and that without wisdom, he becomes a fool that lets himself be enticed away from his wife and his God. If God is love, and He is (I John 4:8), then lust is the mud on the ground at His feet. We wallow like pigs in lust, when God wants us to mount up on the wings of His love. God's love is pure and good, while lust is impure and self-degrading.
So, why do we do it? Because we haven't been taught to be wise. Somewhere along the line, someone didn't teach us God's wisdom, even though He gave us a book specifically devoted to that quality. Without wisdom, our education is worthless. But it's never too late to be reeducated!
Lust and foolishness aren't just problems for men today, they were problems for the knights of old - as can be well imagined, and have been! The stories of King Arthur and his knights, which can be found in many different forms by many different authors, are full of examples of the fruits of lust. Probably the most famous example is King Arthur himself, who was the result of King Uther Pendragon, his father, sleeping with Igraine, wife of Gorlois. The way he accomplished this was by having Merlin change him into the likeness of Gorlois. Later, after Gorlois died in battle, Uther married Igraine; but Uther and Igraine didn't raise Arthur. That responsibility fell on the shoulders of Merlin; or, rather, on the shoulders of the man Merlin appointed to the task, which was Sir Ector. Remember him from the movie or book, Sword In The Stone? It was Sir Ector, first, and Merlin, later, that taught Arthur wisdom; and King Arthur was a very wise man and king.
Let me say a word about Merlin. Almost every story has what I call a wisdom character: someone who speaks for the author and who expresses his world view. In stories about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, it's Merlin. (In Lord Of The Rings, it's Gandalf; in Star Wars, it's Yoda.) I don't believe the real Merlin, on whom the legends are based, was a wizard. It would be hard to reconcile a Christian King having a sorcerer as his mentor and advisor, since wizards and sorcerers openly proclaim themselves to be the enemies of Christ. I think Merlin was merely a wise man or sage, like the men who visited the Christ child. Otherwise, you have an insurmountable obstacle to his and Arthur's relationship.
Besides King Arthur being the fruit of an illicit relationship, the purest, best knight of the Round Table, Sir Galahad, was the result of a tryst between Sir Lancelot and Elaine, daughter of the Fisher King. It's interesting that Elaine tricked Lancelot in the same way Arthur's father tricked his mother: she used enchantments to disguise herself as Guinevere. So, Lancelot had an illicit relationship with Elaine, thinking he was having an illicit relationship with Guinevere! But that's just the way the Arthurian stories are: everyone is sleeping around, while trying to pursue the will of God!
But isn't that just the way we are today? Aren't we "sleeping around" on God, going to bed with every "golden bull" in sight, whether it's pornography, an illicit affair, money, power, prestige, position, a career, a new car, a new relationship - you name it? While still pursuing the Holy Grail?!!
It was the purest knight, Sir Galahad, that finally achieved the Holy Grail. I'll save that story for my next article, which is on Purity. For now, let me say that Lancelot, with all his great qualities, was not allowed to find the Grail because of his impurity. The Grail represents Christ. Only those with pure hearts could achieve it. That's a Biblical idea: only the pure in heart will see God (Matthew 5:8). But - and this is a big but - only Christ can make us pure, which He does by sanctifying us over the course of our lives. To enjoy Christ now, we have to strive for His purity, which I'll talk about in my next article.
Wisdom, God's Word applied, will keep us pure (James 3:17). It will also keep us peaceful. While wisdom guards our minds, the fruit of wisdom, peace, guards both our minds and our hearts; and that, too, helps keep us pure (Phillippians 4:7). So, if we're struggling with purity, we need to dip our minds into the cool, refreshing wellspring of God's Word, filling them to the brim with His thoughts. And then drink deeply with our hearts.
How we think about women determines what we do with women. (The same can be said about women towards men.) Our thoughts prepare the way for our desires, and our desires prepare the way for our actions. If we will nurture pure thoughts in the gardens of our minds, we will grow pure desires in our hearts, and harvest pure actions in our lives - with the Gardener's help. It all starts by planting the seeds of God's Word. (Remember Christ's parable about the Sower?)
I've spent a lot of time talking about wisdom as it relates to purity, but wisdom affects every aspect of our lives. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Wisdom (Exodus 28:3; 31:3;35:31; Deuteronomy 34:9; Isaiah 11:2; Daniel 5:11,14; Acts 6:3,10; Ephesian 1:17; Colossians 1:9). Note that God always gives His Spirit and His wisdom for a purpose, so that some task can be accomplished. In the Exodus scriptures, it was so the Tabernacle and all its accoutrements could be made. Knights called this virtue prowess, which means exceptional or superior ability, skill or strength, especially in combat or battle. I have interpreted prowess as wisdom, to distinguish it from courage or strength. But please note that wisdom does not just apply to our spiritual abilities. It applies to all our skill sets, no matter what our profession or calling. Since knights were military men, they applied it to combat and battle. But an artist needs just as much prowess, just as much wisdom to paint or sculpt a masterpiece.
God's Spirit is our teacher, guiding us into the knowledge of Christ and all things, and He does this primarily through God's Word, but also through our other training. Unless we apply what the Spirit is teaching us, it isn't wisdom - it's still just knowledge. Knowledge puffs up (i.e., makes prideful), but love builds up (I Corinthians 8:1). Hot air vs substance - which would you rather be full of? The link between knowledge and love is wisdom. If you apply knowledge, instead of letting it puff you up, it will turn into love, and that will build you up in your heart and life.
I could talk about wisdom forever because it's such a big topic. But let me leave you with this idea: realizing how crucial wisdom is, that your mind, your heart and ultimately your life are influenced by it; realizing that wisdom is what keeps you pure, thereby protecting your marriage and even your relationship with Christ; realizing that the wisest man in history thought it was the most important thing to ask God for - shouldn't we do the same? Did you know the Bible tells us that if we lack wisdom, all we have to do is ask God, and He'll freely give it to us?
"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him." (James 1:5)
I can think of no wiser advice than that. Read Proverbs and ask God to give you His wisdom. Proverbs is made up of 31 chapters. You can read one each day for a month. At the end of that month, read it again, and continue reading it until you're convinced that wisdom is indeed the principal thing.
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