I once saw a comment by Jon Tyson–pastor of Trinity Grace Church in Manhattan–regarding the prodigious creative output of our culture. His words struck me as truthful.
"So much content; so little wisdom."
Most Americans, it strikes me, are content with cleverness and snark. The scripts of television shows are rife with one-liners. Our children are raised around a torrent of witty banter, teaching them to become ever more clever in their responses. And, in our ever-increasing desire to appear more nonchalant and funny, something is lost.
That something, it seems to me, is wisdom.
When I was a young man, perhaps eleven or twelve years old, my dad challenged me to read one chapter of Proverbs each day. I can't say, what, exactly, motivated him to recommend Proverbs. He gave me a small booklet containing the thirty-one chapters of Scripture, and he told me if I would read just one chapter a day I would be a wise man by the time I was grown.
I remember reading those Proverbs, attempting to decipher some of the sayings. In reading Proverbs I learned to fear the "adultress" (despite not knowing what an "adultress" was, at the time), to desire the wisdom of the Lord, to value hard work, and to appreciate peace over wealth. I can't say if the reading program had the desired outcome my dad hoped for, but I can say that I began to understand how to spot wisdom.
That's why Tyson's statement rang so true.
He's right. We are surrounded by information on all sides. From shared links on social media to articles forwarded via e-mail to television and radio to casual conversations, we are inundated with more content now than ever before. As recent as one hundred years ago the printed word was in limited supply; today it is more pervasive than ever.
All of this content creates a field of noise–much of it easy to ignore–the rest of it clamoring for our attention. Today, for example, I will respond to approximately 100 e-mails, 40 text messages, read five or so articles, consult two commentaries, write two brief pieces for church publications, work on a sermon, and take notes in various meetings.
That's a lot of content.
More and more authors resort to snark and cleverness to catch our attention. They go for the easy laugh or the simplistic perspective. They ignore subtlety or nuance and paint in broad strokes. They are only after followers or viewers or readers or likes. They do not intend to make us into better people.
Wisdom, it seems, is in short supply.
That doesn't mean, of course, that we don't need it. We desperately need the gift of wisdom. When we find something that delves beyond the shallow or the sentimental, it comforts and troubles us, because it makes us think and live in ways that are often more complex. It challenges us to value love over pleasure; it motivates us to cherish peace rather than wealth; it strips away the veneer and reveals the matter at hand.
Which is why we need wisdom now, more than ever.
Our culture struggles with wisdom, of course. Those attempting to share or profess wisdom are often derided by the snarky and the sarcastic. No target is safe from their need for attention or the cheap laugh. And since we tend to share snark and sarcasm with greater frequency than wisdom, perhaps that is why fewer speakers and writers take the time to share it.
But my conviction is growing: Wisdom and earnestness may be mocked, but they are always worth the effort.
One of the perks of pastoring is that I am afforded time to study Scripture and many of its ancient and modern commentators. Many of them are veritable founts of wisdom. This morning in my Scripture reading (which just so happened to be back in Proverbs) and in my study for sermon preparation I was exposed to those who took the longer view to life.
I hope that as a husband, father, friend, and pastor, I can convince my fellow travelers of the beauty and worth of wisdom.
I hope that they will seek the rich expressions of God in creation and writing and will embrace earnest living. This, of course, doesn't mean that we ought to humorless. Far from it! But I want to find the humor in life in order to enjoy it, not to tear it down.
So, on to wisdom. May those of us who profess faith in the great Teacher embrace His words and abide in them. And may we express such wisdom with our lives and words. May we bring earnestness into our spheres of influence, and may we live in a way that moves beyond the surface.
Such living, I think, would be as great a testament to our faith as any jokes we might make.