Can a person be objectively wise? Or is wisdom subjective?

A celebration of wisdom – plus a bunch of questions!

I have been wrestling with what could be a weird question and I would love to hear what you think. Can a person be objectively wise? Or is wisdom subjective?

Think about the people you describe as wise. Do you have a long list or is it very short? Do you think others who know the people on your list would agree with your view that they are wise?

I mean what would be the criteria for judging a person’s wisdom? And would not my criteria be different to yours? Might it depend on my age? My ethnicity? My life experiences? My political persuasion? Would it depend on what I needed at that moment when the wise person stepped into my life and offered their soothing words?

Can a person be objectively wise? Or is wisdom subjective?

We often perceive wisdom in the elderly due to their life experiences, but then you can come across a younger person ‘wise beyond their years’. And I can think of some older people who in my view are not wise at all, probably the opposite, as well as arrogant, know-it-alls and maybe even judgemental and condescending.

What led me down this rabbit hole of reflection around a nebulous concept? To be perfectly honest, I had just led staff devotions on the topic of ‘wisdom’, which then led me to further work in preparing a 14 day Daily Bible devotion on wisdom.

Let’s turn for a moment to Solomon. Even those who know nothing of the Bible will be aware of this ancient King who suggested that a baby be cut in two as he mediated a dispute between two women. In 1 Kings we read that Solomon was wiser than the wisdom of all the people in the East. He was so wise that he was “wiser than anyone else….and his fame spread to all the surrounding nations” (1Kings 4:30-31). In fact, people from all the nations of the world came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, “sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom” (1 Kings 4:34).

Based on all of that, I could argue that Solomon was objectively wise… and yet, Solomon’s story is a timeless one of greed and lust and wanting what was not his to have. In fact, he is not the only leader across the ages who was placed on a pedestal only to come crashing down. Solomon might have had all wisdom, all wealth, everything he could have wanted and more, but it seems his sexual desires and flagrant disobedience to God took him down a path of rebellion.

The unravelling starts with a “however”! A single word that carries so much weight! Solomon, it seems, loved women. According to 1 Kings 11, 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines! And despite being the wisest man on the earth, he disobeyed God by marrying women who worshipped other Gods, “and his wives led him astray” (1 Kings 11:3). The Lord became angry and withdrew his favour. The wisest man in all the world was able to blame women for his inability to obey God, but it came at a heavy price.

This is not an article about men’s failures. It is just that my heart breaks a little as I read that once again women were blamed for a man’s lack of integrity and will.

But back to wisdom.

How did Solomon come to be the wisest person in the world? 1 Kings 4:29 tells us that “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore.” His wisdom came from God.

We desperately needed God’s wisdom.

Our eldest child, now well and truly grown up, married the love of his life earlier this year. We cut our parenting teeth on him. He was an only child until the end of grade 1. He tried to push his way through every boundary we put in place. His personality was almost too big for his age. In fact, He probably didn’t fully grow into his enormous personality until he was in his mid-twenties. Parenting is hard work!

Mostly, parents love their children, but wow do they know how to push every single button of ours! They know how to get inside our heads and our hearts. They know how to make us cry and be so overwhelmed with love we don’t know what to do with it.

They also make us feel very helpless.

Perhaps the most confronting period for us with our eldest, and there were a number, was when he was in grade 5, and we learned that he and a school mate had been avoiding sport by hiding in the classroom and had stolen some items from their classmates! We were mortified.

It’s not often in my life that I have had the clarity to recognise that my response to this moment in time could have lifetime consequences. But it seemed to me then, that that was one of those times. Depending on how we responded to this event, could send our child in a range of different directions. As we talked, my husband and I, we realised we could not do this alone. We desperately needed God’s wisdom. And of course, the way to access that wisdom, as the Book of James makes clear, is to ask.

“If any of you lack wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

There was no flash of lightning. No light bulb moment. But I do know that God gave us wisdom on that occasion and we found a pathway forward. He had to face his actions. It was not easy, but it was done with love and care.

“If any of you lack wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

How often do we talk about wisdom? Perhaps not enough. Wisdom is mentioned over 200 times in the Bible. In fact, we get quite of number of clues as to what wisdom looks like as we read God’s word. My hope for you is that if you haven’t been asking for God’s wisdom much, that will change, because without it, we are not engaging our super power!!

For instance, have you ever considered that wisdom is found in those who take advice? (Proverbs 13:10) If I stop to think about it properly, when I am at my most vulnerable and someone reaches out with a word of encouragement or help, and I actually take it on board, and the situation is improved, wow, is that life-giving! You could even say I was wise enough to listen! That’s what a mentor does. Or a coach. Maybe a parent. A colleague. A friend. They offer advice.

The question is, what do we do with that advice? We weigh it up and either accept or reject it. But have you actually thought that you are demonstrating wisdom in the receipt of that advice?

For those of us who are parents, we cannot protect our children from the myriad challenges life throws up even though we want to. But one thing we can do is pray. Pray for wisdom. Pray for them. Pray that they will be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. Pray the same prayer for your local politician. For the country’s leaders. For yourself. Pray. Pray. God promises his wisdom.

Ultimately, the wisdom we seek from God is found in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Our lives have meaning, due to God’s healing hand of redemption. And that is where our wisdom lies. Our wisdom is the daily claiming of that grace, hope and love. And as we continue our journey of faith, constantly seeking God’s wisdom, we will begin to display humility, gentleness, kindness and the other fruits of the spirit.