David Hegg | The Way of Wisdom

David Hegg
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. "Ethically Speaking" runs Saturdays in The Signal.

By David Hegg

Since ancient times, wisdom has been a prized possession. Solomon, history’s wisest man, wrote, “Acquire wisdom, and with all your acquiring, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7). He recognized that knowledge, wisdom and understanding were three different virtues. Today, we need to reexamine the role of each and the benefits of using each of them in the best way.  

Knowledge is all about facts. It is what we cognitively understand. We can know truth and error, right and wrong, good and evil. Given this, we all continue to build an archive of valuable and worthless knowledge. And in many cases, we recognize the difference between them when it is too late.  

Wisdom is defined as the proper application of knowledge to life’s situations. That is, sifting through the archive of knowledge to find and apply the most beneficial knowledge in the most effective way to bring about the best ends.  

Lastly, understanding is the ability to assess the consequences of one’s application of knowledge to life — either wise or unwise — and learn from disastrous, foolish decisions and the unintended consequences of previous wise ones.   

But the whole ethical partnership of knowledge, wisdom and understanding has fallen on hard times today. Too often, there needs to be more discernment about the best ends in life. And if those ends are emotionally rather than rationally discerned, the whole process will be undermined.  

Take the pursuit of wealth, for example. If you decide that the best ends in your life situations are those that help you accumulate material wealth, then your choice of means will be shaped accordingly. You will do whatever it takes to gain a profit, even if it means bending the rules or perpetrating injustice on those in your way. You will think little about taking unfair advantage of others if it will increase your bottom line. We see this in multiple ways in our world today.  

If you have gone down the path of immediate sexual gratification as a driving force in your life, then you will think nothing of engaging in multiple sexual liaisons. And perhaps most noticeable recently are those who, aligning with a particular viewpoint, unwisely attempt to force their view on the rest of us through what they consider are the best means. Yet, as it plays out, it becomes evident that what they consider “true” is much more complex, and the means they choose to bring about their ends eventually undermine their entire enterprise.  

For example, consider the students, faculty and professional rioters who grabbed the headlines on campuses nationwide. It was obvious from the beginning that they had a very different understanding of the best ends (institutional change) and chose what they considered the wisest means (rebellion, destruction of property, and violence) to bring attention to and force others to accept the knowledge (Hamas were the victims and Israel the criminals) they held as both true and honorable.   

What may have begun on the part of some as a peaceful demonstration deteriorated into chaos and criminal activity on the part of many. How did they get off track? Even if, for argument’s sake, I grant them the possibility that they had something worth adding to the national conversation, they lacked understanding. They didn’t see the big picture. They rushed into a fray without understanding their actions’ short- and long-term results. 

Consequently, they unwisely chose the wrong means to accomplish their goal. Instead, their foolishness was demonstrated by their demise. It became apparent that their knowledge base could not support their actions. Their cause suffered from a breakdown of internal virtue, and they became a mob to be controlled rather than champions of a position that could shape public opinion. 

The significant problem we face in our society is we are fast becoming people whose daily choices are shaped and fueled more by desire for immediate pleasure than by long-term stability. Our impatience is exceeded only by our addiction to happiness, clouding our vision. More and more, our daily choices are driven by how we want to feel right now. This isn’t wise. And more, it demonstrates that we don’t understand the grave consequences of our selfishness. We are blind to the incremental erosion of our courage to make hard choices.  

Our daily addiction to happiness is making us all cowards, and our reaction is simply to laugh and demand more fun. Meanwhile, hard work, delayed gratification, integrity and genuine compassion are taking a back seat to easy money, duplicity and the determination to ensure nice guys finish last.  

We may need to re-examine just what the best ends are in life. For Solomon, the beginning of wisdom was a proper recognition of God. Life is not up to us to figure out. It is to be lived on the highest ethical plane, as those accountable for more than their temporal happiness. We once believed that the best means in every situation were those that enabled us to love God and love our neighbor. Maybe knowledge, wisdom and understanding aren’t that difficult to understand after all.  

Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays. 

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