May 29, 2012

Seeking Wisdom from Above (Book of James)

In the video at our Bible study, Jeff Cavins read parts of Gaudium et spes, which was written in the 1960s by the Vatican during a time when many tremendous changes were taking place in the world. It wasn't just one thing, but a whole series of changes, such as the sexual revolution, improvements in technology, the discovery of atomic energy, etc.  I thought it was really interesting that it talked about how there were so many great discoveries and advancements in the world, but there was an imbalance because people did not have the spiritual advancement to be able to handle all of the changes that were taking place.  The writers stated that their era needed much more wisdom than any time before, and that all of the changes would cause harm if people did not have the spiritual development to use them wisely.  They believed that the answer to this was finding wisdom through Jesus Christ and that the human's intellectual nature could be perfected by that godly wisdom.  Through wisdom people are able to see past visible realities to what is unseen.  Jeff Cavins pointed out that it's crazy to think that people in that time thought that their era needed wisdom more than ever before, and in our era we've had so many more developments, especially the internet.  Our culture definitely needs wiser people who know God deeply.  

What exactly is wisdom?  
I think I put this quote in a previous post on the book of James, but a note in my Bible (Catholic Edition NAB) says that wisdom is "a gift that God grants to all who ask in faith and that sustains the Christian in times of trial.  It is a kind of knowledge or understanding not accessible to the unbeliever or those who doubt, which gives the recipient an understanding of the real importance of the events."  Jeff Cavins wrote that wisdom is more than knowledge, and having wisdom means you have "to apply that knowledge with common sense and insight."  Furthermore, Colossians 2:2-3 shows us that wisdom is more than just a phrase, but a person- Jesus Christ.  We will gain wisdom solely through Him.  The fullest expression of God's wisdom is seen through Christ being crucified.  It might not seem wise that God let his son die on the cross, but the great, divine mystery of it all is that it was extremely wise because his death led to everlasting life for us (Catechism 272).  

Earthly wisdom vs. godly wisdom: 
First of all, earthly wisdom is foolish, and even God's weaknesses are much greater than our human wisdom and strength (1 Corinthians 1:20-25).  James says in 3:14-15, "but if you have bitter jealously and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  Wisdom of this kind does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic."  Earthly wisdom comes from the devil, and it can cause us to act out of our own desires.  Our motivations become tainted, and we start doing things for the wrong reasons, acting out of jealously and selfish ambition.  This only ends up leading to "disorder and every foul practice" (James 3:16). On the other hand, " the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity." (James 3:17)

The wrong sources of wisdom: 
Our culture is very focused on the individual.  This is made evident by many people seeking to make improvements in their lives based on self-help books, magazine articles, and shows like Oprah and Dr. Phil that promote self-empowerment and self-improvement.  That's not to say that there is anything wrong with striving to be a better person, but are we seeking out wisdom for our lives in the appropriate places?  

Where can we find godly wisdom?
We have to make sure we are seeking out wisdom for our lives from the Lord in order to avoid the Devil's temptation to act out of jealousy and selfish ambition.  Jeff Cavins mentioned the following source of wisdom in his video:  
  • James 1:5-8 and Proverbs 4:7 - We must start by seeking wisdom.  In 1:5 James says "But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it."  
  • The Bible: Some of the best places to start are Wisdom, Job, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and Sirach.  
  • The Church: In Matthew 16: 18-19, Jesus tells Peter that he is the rock upon which he will build his church, and he gives him the keys to heaven.  If we can find all wisdom in Jesus, then the church is absolutely a good place to look for wisdom since the church was led by Peter based on the foundation of Jesus' teachings.  
  • The Catechism: This is the best place to find God's plan of goodness for our lives through the organization of the four pillars.  
  • Church documents: There are many, many, many church documents that have been written where we can seek wisdom on just about any topic imaginable.  I really want to read two encyclicals that Jeff Cavins mentioned - Pope JP2's Familiaris Consortio, which contains wisdom for the family as well as Pope Benedict's encyclical on love.  Both are supposed to be excellent.
  • Wise, elderly people: We need to seek wisdom from those who are older than us with good morals who can lead us because of their experiences.  I don't think they even need to be elderly.  Thomas and I have learned so much from talking with older couples in our Bible study who have many great experiences to share.  
  • Saints: We know that they are in heaven because of their lives and good works on this earth.  They serve as great role models, and reading about their lives can offer us encouragement and wisdom for the issues we face. 

Finally, I didn't know this, but apparently Pope John Paul II read the Gospel of John every single month to remind himself of Jesus's words and message.  If we are really able to ingrain these stories and words in our minds, it will help us to have wisdom at the forefront of our minds so we can act appropriately.  According to James, a wise and understanding person will show their works through living a good life in humility, and this comes from having wisdom (James 3:13).

This blog post is based on the Bible Study James: Pearls for Wise Living by Jeff Cavins. Here are my previous posts based on this study:


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