Is it Better to Be Smart or Wise?

Is It Better to Be Smart or Wise? - Parenting Like Hannah
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The world values knowledge. We spend millions of dollars on education. Large cash prizes are awarded each year by the Noble committee to people they feel have contributed the most to certain fields of knowledge. Game shows give value to having even the most trivial knowledge as a part of your repertoire.

Yet we look around us in the world and see what looks like an absolute mess. If people are so smart, why are there so many problems in the world? Why do equally well educated people have polar opposite opinions on almost any topic? Why does it appear that seemingly well educated, intelligent people make  really poor choices?

In the rush for instantaneous knowledge on any and every topic, we have been graced by websites like Wikipedia which can answer almost any question in seconds.  Internet and media created “experts” claim to have all of the answers. Eventually, we feel like we have all the knowledge in the world at our fingertips. This of course makes us very smart. (Or at least that is what we think!) Yet somewhere along the line, I think we have lost the Biblical ideal of wisdom.

One of my favorite Bible stories when I was a child was the story of King Solomon asking for wisdom. God gave Solomon the opportunity to ask Him for a special gift.  He gave Solomon all of the options he wanted. Solomon could have chosen power or riches (probably a likely choice for many of us!). Instead he asked God for wisdom.

The story of his decision about the women fighting over the baby is known by many people who know little else about the Bible. The book of Proverbs is mostly a result of the wisdom God gave Solomon. (There were a few other writers, too.) Even Ecclesiastes tells us of the wisdom Solomon learned from poor choices he made later in his life.

So what is the difference between being smart and being wise? Can you have one without the other? Is one more important spiritually than the other? How do we train our children to possess godly knowledge and wisdom?

Knowledge is what used to be called “book learning”. It consists of facts, principles and other items that you have committed to memory. It can be as simple as addition facts or as important as God’s Words in the Bible.

My favorite definition of wisdom is: the knowledge of what is true or right PLUS the proper judgement of how to put that knowledge into action. Wisdom adds the characteristics of true, right, proper judgement and action. It is so much richer and more meaningful than just possessing knowledge.

Knowledge is basically an intellectual exercise. Wisdom requires making value judgements and then putting into action the knowledge that will have the true and right outcomes. Anyone can occasionally make a wise decision even without any knowledge. I can sometimes make an accurate medical diagnosis even though I have no training in medicine. I doubt seriously anyone would argue I have the wisdom necessary to be a good brain surgeon. I would need a much broader base of knowledge to make consistently good decisions during a very complex surgery.

On the other hand, I could have memorized every medical book on brain surgery ever written. I could even understand them. I might have even practiced on dummies. If I lack wisdom though, I could still make some very dangerous choices that could lead to someone’s death. That is why some doctors like Ben Carson are so sought after for complex surgeries while others are avoided. The highly sought after surgeons have learned to combine the knowledge with skill and wisdom.

Spiritually, both knowledge and wisdom have a place of importance. Watch television for very long and it isn’t too difficult to find someone quoting “God” or telling you what “God thinks”. Yet most of the time, if you know your Bible very well, you are soon talking to your television. I have even heard people quoting Benjamin Franklin as God (not to mention sometimes just plain nonsense!).  It is so critically important for everyone to become very familiar with God’s actual Words.

Biblical wisdom is vitally important. It is the ability to put your Biblical knowledge into action. Jesus often criticized the Pharisees. It seems they had plenty of Biblical knowledge. I imagine they could probably quote large passages of scripture from memory. Unfortunately, they lacked the wisdom to put it into practice properly. They didn’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah and missed the point of many scriptures. They saw the surface, but lacked the wisdom to understand the principles and put them into action.

The great news is that you can work on increasing your child’s Bible knowledge and Bible wisdom without special training. The best thing you can do for your child is to make Bible reading a part of his life from birth. I started reading to my daughter from a baby Bible when she was only a few days old. As she got older we gradually increased the difficulty of her Bible and very quickly she was reading the Bible on her own. There are great Bibles now at easier reading levels and with lots of child and teen appropriate notes.

The best way to start developing your child’s Biblical wisdom is to discuss with your child what she is reading in her Bible. What lessons does God want us to get from that passage or story? What does that look like in our times? Make it apparent that you turn to God to lead you when your are making decisions. Relate events in your child’s life or in the world back to the Bible. How could that incident have turned out better if the person had used Godly wisdom?

I would love to see parents spend as much time and money on developing their child’s Bible knowledge and wisdom as they do in other academic areas. If you think about it, you may even want to spend more time and money on God’s Words. Academic knowledge can at best only improve our living conditions for a few years. Bible knowledge coupled with Biblical wisdom can influence where your child spends eternity. I looked it up on Wikipedia and evidently eternity is a very long time!

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Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

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