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Posts Tagged ‘Prudence’

Wonderment is a valuable thing. It causes you to ask questions and seek answers. But where might one find answers? For meaning and life, the best and reliable source is the Bible. For beauty and function the best source is the second book of revelation, nature (see “Two Books” for why).

I have been contemplating the idea of wisdom lately. As a grey headed grandfather of seven, I reckon I am supposed to have a bit of that. I have a bit perhaps but feel woefully lacking. By contrast, Proverbs 3:19 says, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth, by understanding He established the heavens.” Certainly He has no lack of wisdom and did not have to acquire it, deepen it, or perfect it. Out of His abundance of perfect wisdom “the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6) Therefore, belonging to Him, I have hope of obtaining a measure of wisdom.

But what is wisdom, why do we need it, and how do we get it?

As I began to look in Proverbs, I observed in chapter two the use of four words in rapid succession, as if repetition meant they were different words for the same thing: wisdom, knowledge, discernment, and understanding. I wondered, how they are related and how they are different. Do they build upon one another or are they different words for the same idea?

I like to come to some level of completion or satisfaction in the study of an idea. I looked up definitions and key passages. I checked the Hebrew words for the various words. And that was when I realized that I was beginning a study that I will not soon finish. The same Hebrew word was frequently translated as different English words. Knowledge seems to be separate, but the other three somewhat interchangeable. I like for words to have exact meanings. Of course, language develops by usage and exact meanings are never going to happen. Even if someone prescribes a meaning, say Noah Webster for instance, the common misuse or connotative use can destroy any simple, straightforward use of a word. So I set out first of all to define terms as would be helpful in my study of them. Following are definitions I am developing for these four words drawn from dictionaries, the Scripture, and experience. 

Truth is information that aligns with reality. It is the basis of all pursuit of wisdom. “He who speaks truth tells what is right, but a false witness, deceit.” (Proverbs 12:17) I have added this word because of its foundational status. If there is no truth then seeking wisdom is a fool’s game never to be accomplished. We live in a culture that argues that there is no truth, but then all other discussion becomes meaningless. No one actually operates on the basis of no truth as seen in the fact that most people do life preservative avoidance moves to continue living (you know, things like stopping at red lights and not jumping off of cliffs without aid of parachute or wingsuit).

Knowledge is awareness and familiarity with truth, facts, skills, and propositions. Proverbs 18:15 says, “The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Prudence is acting now in a way that prepares for the future. Knowledge is useful for the future.

Understanding is the ability to grasp the meaning and value of knowledge and its relationship to other ideas. Proverbs 9:6 says, “Forsake your folly and live, and proceed in the way of understanding.” It is the man of understanding who may acquire and act by wisdom. Contemplating knowledge and how it should be applied leads to understanding. For this reason, it is rare for those who do not consider and muse to gain understanding.

Discernment is the process of evaluating the causes and outcomes of an event. Proverbs 1:2 says, “To know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding.” Instruction is a word meaning discipline and is part of a disciple’s knowledge. In the verse, discernment is making use of understanding.

Wisdom is appropriate action fitted to the situation based on consideration of prudent and right judgement. “Take my instruction and not silver, and knowledge rather than choicest gold. For wisdom is better than jewels; and all desirable things cannot compare with her. ‘I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion.'” (Proverbs 8:10-12) Wisdom is the goal because it helps the wise and those under the wise person’s care and gives glory to God, the Author of wisdom.

I have defined these terms in this order because I think that they build upon one another in this particular order. Truth is the basis of knowledge which may lead to understanding, allowing for discernment in a situation, upon which wisdom for action is developed.

Or more simply      T -> K -> U -> D -> W

Obviously, these skills develop in fits and starts and various orders as a situation, study, prayer, or illumination occurs, but I think they are well thought of in this order because of increasing complexity and need of the preceding ones to accomplish.

If I develop clarity on how they are differentiated and taught in Scripture, I will try to share that here. Until then, may God give us wisdom for the living of these days so that we might be like “the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times.” (I Chronicles 12:32)

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Experience is supposed to make us wiser and more prudent. Sometimes we heed lessons learned and sometime we don’t. It began with a seemingly innocent change of plans: “Oh, I can’t go overnight. We’ll just have to figure it out.” Next up was not taking a map. Then there was the part where I should have asked what the actual plans were. The trails are not well maintenanced, that is, cleared, so they can be hard to find. A new trail had been cut that was not on the map I had nor had I seen it, so we wasted some time going the wrong way. About 1/3 through the trip leg cramps ensued which caused us to change our route to avoid uphills that increased the cramps and pain, which then resulted in perhaps an extra 5 miles of hiking. We attempted to traverse a trail in the dark we had never been on. The trail passed through a field. In retrospect there were probably two exits, maybe more, from that field. After too much walking, we ended up on a road and knew where we were, which was about five miles from our vehicle. So we called in a rescue from an in-law. The final result of these multiple missteps was an estimated 25 miles in rough terrain, having left the house at 8 AM and returned at midnight.

On the up side, it was a beautiful day with cooler than usual June temperatures, partly cloudy and mostly tree covered to shield us from all day sun exposure. The river was cold and relaxing. The conversation was pleasant. We succeeded in hiking the length of the Gorge from Cabin Trail all the way to the lake and seeing several trails we’d not been on before. I took some good pictures and felt the beauty of God’s Creation. The stars shone brightly as we awaited the pick-up. My son asked me at one point how I could still be talking about plants. I had a two part response: 1) That’s just who I am, and 2) When you are hurting and in too deep, it’s best to focus your mind away from the difficulty onto more pleasant thoughts.

A few examples of Providential** assistance included finding a laminated map propped up against a tree at a campsite, a clean water source along the way, and an answer to prayer for assistance. I had told my son earlier in the day that I had prayed in the form of a daydream that a person would be standing in the river, fishing, who knew where to cross and would be willing to point out where the trail was on the other side. In actuality, the answer came in the form of two people who were camping and were just stepping out of the river after swimming. The man walked about a 1/4 mile up the river to show us where to cross and gave a detailed and accurate description of the turns to get on the trail we desired. The end of his description was as follows: “I don’t know what happens after the field because I haven’t gone any further.” (Reference earlier sentence about the two exits from the field for a small chuckle.)

Am I wiser for the experience? In one respect, no. I knew all of those things to do and had regularly done them in times past, except when I didn’t. In another respect, yes. For hopefully a long time, and perhaps permanently, I will ask questions of preparedness of my self and others before attempting something more than moderate. And, the moderate can become the strenuous, so take heed there, too. Now, a few of you are thinking how foolish the whole adventure was. I suspect you don’t have much adventure in your life. Some are saying, what’s the big deal since no one was hurt. Your adventures will likely be short-lived. The balance is to take calculated risks. That involves foresight, preparedness, physical and mental vigor, and a willingness to ask for help. I resolve to be better prepared next time rather than just stay home.

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Father-Son Outing

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Ferns have such a feel of richness

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Never seen Galax so profusely blooming as on this trip

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Mountain Laurel

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Steep, poorly marked trails

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Do you see the fisherman?

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Sourwood sprouts and Table Mountain Pinecone

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Steep terrain and sharp meanders

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The reason the trail doesn’t always follow the river bank

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Raccoon Tracks

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Hawksbill

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1 3/4 liter was not enough

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Wild Ginger (Asarum sp?)

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Refreshing

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Chimneys

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Japanese Meadowsweet. What is it doing here?

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Solomon Seal with seed pods

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???

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Fire Pink

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???

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Indian Pipe

*Last lines of “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

**Answer to prayer is a Providential assistance, too, but is more direct, so I classify it differently from common grace (Matthew 5:45). God oversees all things in our lives.

 

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Time to graduate some students. It is a time for smiles and celebration and happy tears. The education we give our young is too focussed on knowledge and understanding devoid of moral evaluation, too lacking in wisdom for living and discernment for awareness of various dangers. I hope that I may be a mentor in thoughtful and careful living.

Knowledge leads to understanding
This path will serve you very well
To your mind and heart rewarding
In interactions it will tell

Acquire wisdom in your youth
Always prudent to do what’s right
Acting kindly along with truth
With wisdom overcoming might

Many deceived by false knowledge
Seek that you may discernment find
That at home or work or college
By truth delivered, sharp of mind

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