When a mother giraffe gives birth, she will do so while standing up. So her calf’s first act is to fall six feet to the ground, crash landing on his face. Then, as if such an arrival wasn’t harsh enough, the youngling’s mother will continually knock him down when he attempts to stand. Only when completely exhausted will she allow him to stagger to his feet.
This isn’t cruelty. It is the youngster’s first and most necessary lesson, a tough lesson for an even tougher world: If you are going to stay alive in a world of apex predators, you better learn to stand on your own feet. You better wise up as quickly as possible.
Yes, this is a dangerous, predatory world. If we are going to survive, we need to learn our lessons well. And since none of our mothers hatched us in the Serengeti, immediately kicked us in the head, or thumped us like a drum in the hospital nursery, we can’t rely upon nature’s classroom. We have to find a different way. That way is wisdom.
Wisdom is more than intelligence. One can have incredible brain power and be essentially clueless to how the world works. It’s not knowledge. Being “in the know” is not the same as knowing how to live rightly. And wisdom is not just experience. Some people have all the experience in the world — they have fallen on their faces over and over — and they never get any smarter.
Wisdom, at its most basic, is the skillful application of knowledge. It is skillful use of experience. Some native peoples of North America put it this way: One has become wise when he or she can 1) Understand what needs to be done, 2) He or she can do it successfully, and 3) He or she can do it without being told when to do it.
If this is indeed wisdom, then maybe no greater commodity is more needed in today’s world. In all aspects of society — business, family, government, economics, education, and religion — there is a dearth of those who seem to have any understanding and discernment whatsoever. Twenty years ago Philip Howard wrote a book entitled, “The Death of Common Sense.” If it was dead two decades ago, then by now, it has seized up with rigor mortis.
But beyond dropping all the idiots of the world on their heads and kicking them around for a while (a nice image I like to daydream about, but an image spoiled once I realize that I’m as big a moron as the people I criticize), what can we do on a planet with so little wisdom? Well, as simplistic as it sounds, we can pray.
The Apostle James said it like so: “If you need wisdom,” and heaven knows we do, “ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver.”
Wisdom, by all practical appearances, is there for the taking — at least for the asking. God will give those who request it, the insight and understanding that they need. He will grant common sense in living life; skill in dealing with people, perception about yourself and with situations. He can teach us to integrate our experience, knowledge, intuition, and know-how.
God can save us from foolish and reckless living, if — and this is a colossal “if” — we will trust him for these things and not ourselves. And that’s the rub, the very definition of our absurdity: We do not trust God to show us the way of wisdom. We waver, follow our own hearts, and then fall victim to our own lunacy. By trusting ourselves, we land in the dust over and over again. Yes, I know it’s hard to “let go and let God,” show us the way. But his way is the only path to true wisdom, and it’s a path far less painful than constantly falling on your face.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.