Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: wisdom

Do you think wisdom comes with old age?

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That was the question my barber asked me yesterday. My answer was that I don’t want to believe I have wasted all 76 years of my life. I hope I have learned something from the things I have experienced.

BUT – If a man would spend his whole life trying to demonstrate that he is still young and with it – will he have attained to much wisdom there when he gets to his older years?

The zeal of youth is not the same thing as wisdom. Young people need mentors to open their eyes to see that there is more to the world than what they have yet experienced in their short lives.

When young people today feel they know what is right and it is their duty to prevent any contrary viewpoint from being heard, I must conclude that their mentors have lied to them. I can only learn to understand the world by listening to people who see the world differently than I do.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that what I believe is wrong and the other person is right. But how can I even begin to show the other person where he has gone wrong if I don’t understand the basis of his belief? Even when the vision of others is distorted it helps me to better understand truth if I can discern what is distorting their vision.

The greatest piece of wisdom that I have learned in my 76 years is that the truth is not dependent on me. Emotion and intellect can be either a help or hindrance in learning to understand truth. My perception is not infallible, I learn to see more clearly by listening to those who see what I have not yet seen.

A good understanding of truth makes a safe foundation for our lives. But truth without compassion is idolatry and that is a very shaky foundation.

The problem of age

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I was sitting in the food court with my 95-year-old mother. A young oriental lady rushed up to us, on the verge of tears, and wanted to meet and hold the hand of this old lady. I was startled at first, but as the young lady talked it warmed my heart to see her love for old people. She was from Calgary, in Saskatoon for a Youth for Christ rally. She had a grandmother, but she lived far away in China. Mom was in the middle stages of dementia and didn’t fully grasp what was going on. That didn’t matter to this young lady, she just felt drawn to my elderly mother.

The Bible says: “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:32); and “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31).

Do we North Americans have that kind of respect for elders? It’s pretty obvious that we don’t. What’s wrong with us that we don’t have that kind of feeling for old people? The reasons are many and complex and I don’t pretend that the thoughts I give here explain everything.

Something happened when one room schools were closed and children began to be segregated by age in large classrooms. As parents accepted the idea that this was good for children, our whole society began to organize itself in age specific groups.

Parents began to believe that children learned best how to behave from their peers, rather than their parents. This was not a conclusion that they came to based on evidence. It was propagated by psychologists and sociologists. If we dare to look at the evidence, indications are that this has not been a good thing, for children, for families, for society as a whole.

The next development was the creation of youth. Neither was this an accidental development, it was the result of psychologists and sociologists downplaying the experience and wisdom of parents and discouraging children from respecting those older than themselves, or from even wanting to grow up.

Mandatory retirement was meant to make room in the work force for younger people. People were encouraged to look forward to the day when they could leave behind the drudgery of work and spend their time and energy on travel and recreation. That is, pretend you are still young and try to do all the things now that you didn’t get to do when you really were young. But life can’t be fun and games all the time, and many retirees find themselves once again pigeonholed by their age. They no longer have much in common with their workplace friends, since they are now out of touch with the things they once had in common.

Finally then, we are left with the problem of what to do with old people when they no longer appear to have anything useful to contribute to society. Too often we warehouse them in seniors’ homes.

With all the good intentions in the world, I wonder if we haven’t created places that are breeding grounds for dementia. There are many causes for dementia, of course, but when we see people who remain active and alert well into old age, most often they are people who have maintained interest in other people, especially people who are not just like them. Frequent interaction with younger people and people whose trajectory in life has been different stimulates the mind and keeps it from settling into a rut.

Interaction between old people and children can be stimulating for both. And I’m not just talking about grandparents being babysitters, although most appreciate those opportunities. Elders should be encouraged to talk about their lives, the good times and the bad, to make it real to the younger generation.

Elders should have advice to give, but not in a scolding way, or in a hopelessly idealistic way. By the time we have reached the three score and ten mark we have made an awful lot of mistakes, and hopefully learned something from them. We may not want to talk about all of them. But if we can reach back in our memories and tell where we have made a bad choice and the consequences we have experienced, the lesson we try to teach will have a much greater chance of sticking in the minds of the young.

Thoughts on growing old

  1. Winter isn’t much fun anymore.
  2. Neither are the really hot days of summer.
  3. Everything takes longer – even getting out of bed in the morning.
  4. It’s no longer a mystery how my Dad could take a nap after dinner.
  5. I’m more concerned that my shoes be comfortable than that they be fashionable.
  6. Some of the hair that used to grow on top of my head now grows out my ears and nostrils.
  7. I’ve lived long enough to see my daughter doing things that were ridiculous when her mother did them.
  8. I’ve had time to make enough mistakes that I no longer get so riled up about other people’s mistakes.
  9. My messy desk no longer seems cool.
  10. I don’t look forward to birthdays as much as I used to.

(Thoughts prompted by another birthday coming up in a few days and this post by Jnana Hodson )

A man looks at the Proverbs 31 woman

Perhaps it is foolhardy to attempt a fresh look at this ground that has been turned over many times by better men than I, yet I confess that I am not altogether convinced that they have found the true treasure hidden in this field. Parts of it have been unearthed and displayed for our edification in such a way as to appear unattainable by any mortal woman.

Let me say at the beginning that I believe that Lemuel is Solomon and that this chapter contains the teachings of his mother, Bathsheba. That is the ancient Jewish tradition and the modern attempts to find a better explanation are not convincing.

Verses 10 to 31 form a poem written in acrostic style where each sentence (verse) begins with succeeding letters of the Hebrew alphabet. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, thus 22 sentences in this poem. I will give my thoughts on four points in this the description of a virtuous woman.

First, this woman is a person in her own right. She is not the property of her father, her older brother or her husband, though no doubt each are important to her. Neither is she the servant of her children, though they are precious to her. She is not a person living her life in subservience to others, yet her life finds its meaning in her relationship to others. Her freedom, and the use she makes of it, is the most surprising aspect of this poem.

Secondly, though her family is the main focus of her life she is a leader, not a slave. There is nothing said about the meals she prepares but I would perceive her to be like the modern French woman who says “C’est moi qui décide.” “I am the one who decides what my children shall eat. They need nutritious and varied meals served at regular times and I wouldn’t dream of catering  to a desire for sugar laden snacks at all times of the day.”.

She knows that she is the teacher that her children will learn the most from and she does not waste the opportunities to teach them respect and kindness and the other important lessons of life. She enjoys watching her children play and have fun, all the time knowing that she has the authority to let them know when their fun is in danger of going too far.

She sees to it that her family has suitable clothing for all weather and all occasions. She makes the home a place of warmth and security.

Thirdly, she  contributes to the family income. She is described here as one who buys wool and flax, weaves them into cloth and garments to sell, then uses the proceeds to buy a field and plant a vineyard. This is a revolutionary concept. I believe that women in Canada did not have the legal standing to purchase property in their own name until about 100 years ago.

But note that none of her work takes place outside the family setting. Today we have gotten our priorities turned upside down. A woman who does not have a career outside the home is often made to feel that she is useless, a parasite on society. Go ahead and have children, our society says, but give them to the experts to raise. Well, the “experts” are not doing a good job of it. A mother is the true expert at raising her own children. To scorn the value of the things she does in the home to raise useful and productive members of society is entirely wrongheaded.

There are many things that a stay at home mother can do to contribute to the family income. Farm wives have always been an integral part of the farm workforce. The wives of small business owners contribute in many ways to the success of their husband’s business. Others have found ways to bring in income through home based businesses. There are many opportunities, but home and family are always the first priority of a virtuous woman.

Fourthly, she is known for her wisdom. “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” A wise husband will readily admit that he learns much from his wife. She often has sound advice in how to deal with difficult situations. She draws inspiration from the Word of God and applies it to life from a perspective that he would not otherwise see.

She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea she reacheth forth her hand to the needy.” This also is wisdom, the wisdom of compassion that is at times lacking in men. We live in a day of government programs to help the needy. They do much good, but no program can perceive a broken heart and give the personal touch of compassion that will help it heal.

What I see in these verses is not a list of requirements that a woman has to measure up to in order to be considered virtuous. They are rather a general description of the nature of a virtuous woman and a list of possibilities for her to explore.

Cultural perspectives on youth and old age

Closely related to the North American orientation toward the future is the strong emphasis on youth. This can be seen in commercial advertising and entertainment — the old are rarely represented. At work the young are often thought to be more active and productive, and to hold more promise than do the elderly, despite their experience and sense of responsibility.

There are few attempts to involve the aged in the mainstream of the society. Once they retire, they are viewed as having little to contribute. And when they can no longer care for themselves, they are often placed in nursing homes, isolated from their offspring and cared for by non relatives.

This emphasis on youth is the exception rather than the rule around the world. In most societies old people are viewed positively as wise and experienced. They are shown respect, given places of honour and consulted about family and community decisions. There is no retirement from public life. In fact, retirement as we conceive of it now is a twentieth-century phenomenon found mainly in the west.

Paul G Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries © 1985 by Baker Books.

And lean not unto thine own understanding

“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” -Proverbs 3:5.

I’ve been wondering of late if I really understand this verse. God has given us a mind with the capacity of understanding vast and complex subjects, and surely He wants us to use it. The Bible certainly assumes that we can understand logic and that this understanding will guide our actions.

As I consider this verse now, it appears that there is a choice involved on what we use as the foundation for our understanding. When we face a troubling situation and have no clear direction from the Lord, asking ourselves “What would Jesus do?” will produce an answer that has no foundation other than our own understanding. In other words, an answer that is built on sand that will shift according to our moods and wishes. If we rather ask, “Lord, what would thou have me to do?” and wait for an answer, we are much more likely to make a decision that won’t have unfortunate repercussions.

God provides a solid foundation for our understanding in different ways: through His Word, by the Holy Spirit, by His people. Yet we are not robots, having our every thought and movement directed by a cosmic remote control. There is much scope for the exercise of our own reasoning in working out the details of our lives in accordance with the foundation provided by God.

Even here, though, there is a very real danger that after a number of years of living as a Christian and making many decisions that have proved to be a blessing in my life and the lives of those around me, I might begin to feel that I have this Christian life thing all straight in my mind and can now proceed on auto pilot. I have learned Christian speech patterns, Christian rules of behaviour and for the most part my life continues on fairly successfully.  Yet little signs begin to appear that maybe I am forgetting to lean upon the Lord. My contributions to a spiritual discussion sound like a tape-recorded message that has been played many times already. I am not particularly concerned about the problems of others. And I seem to have become immune to reproof.

Solomon said: “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished” (Ecclesiastes 4:13). Perhaps he was thinking of himself when he wrote those words. We are not wiser than Solomon, may we not build our lives on the foundation of our own understanding. Let us rather consider Solomon’s final words of instruction:

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.

The curse of knowledge

“Once you know something, it’s hard to imagine not knowing it.”

The title for this post, and the quotation above, are taken from the book Made to Stick, © 2007, 2008 by Chip and Dan Heath, published by Random House.

The curse of knowledge is a stumbling block for every Christian who attempts to speak of his faith to non-Christians.  We have developed a whole jargon of “spiritual” terminology that is so familiar to us that we cannot imagine what it was like before we were converted.

“Converted” – there I go.  What does that word mean to me?  How can I make it clear to someone else who may not have a clue what I am saying?

I remember the time before I became a Christian and thought that people who claimed to be born again were hypocrites boasting of being better than other people.  No doubt some of them were, but I have since come to know many people who have been changed through and through by the love of God.  And it has happened to me.  How can I communicate that without using hackneyed expressions?

I don’t believe we can get the message of Jesus Christ out to people in our post-Christian society while using the kind of language we use in talking with one another.  The curse of knowledge is a great impediment to that, at least until we realize that it exists.

The apostle Paul writes about becoming “all things to all men.”  The whole passage reads as follows:

“And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.  To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (1 Corinthians 9:20-23).

He was not pretending to be two or three different persons, depending on who he was with, but he could understand each person’s way of thinking and speak with him in language he would understand.

In the public square, or marketplace, of Athens, Paul spoke of Jesus to any who would listen.  They took him to Areopagus, Mars Hill, the site of the highest court of Athens and asked to explain himself.  He spoke to them of the altar dedicated to the Unknown God and told them he was only telling people about this God whom they worshipped in ignorance.  He continued his defence with many quotations from Athenian philosophers that would have been familiar to his listeners.  It was only when he spoke of the resurrection that he introduced an unheard of doctrine.  At this point the hearing broke up, some mocking Paul, others saying they would like to hear him again some other time.  A few people in Athens were converted, including Dionysus, one of the judges.

Oh to have that kind of wisdom, to be able to present the gospel in the language and terminology of the listeners!

Big or small, the Bible fits us all

They say that if you take a most powerful magnifying glass, and examine any flower, or even just a blade of grass, that the patterns that we see branch off into hundreds of other patterns, and they branch off into hundreds of others, and so on, and every last thing about it is as perfect as it can be.

Ma says that God shows Himself just as wonderful in making the smallest things perfect and beautiful as He does in the big things, like the sun and the stars and the way they move on their way.

She says that’s the way with the Bible, too.  It fits into the smallest trouble and joys, and helps the stupidest minds, and at the same time it is full of new thoughts for the wisest ones.  The same sentence can shrink up so it just fits the need of the littlest ones, or swell out beyond the thoughts of the biggest ones; and that’s how we know it was inspired by God.  No other book could do it.

[excerpted from When I was thirteen, copyright estate of Christian Young Plumb.]

Does stupidity make you more responsible?

This is the antithesis of the question asked by the headline of my last post, and it is an even dumber question than the last one.  Nevertheless, I have heard sincere Christians advance arguments that sound an awful lot like this question.

“We’re just humble people, we know what we believe and don’t need to spend a lot of time studying the Bible, or history, or doctrine.”  Such people are earnest and well meaning, but when that attitude continues for several generations, how will they even know if the ancient landmarks have been moved?

The person who is wise in his own eyes and the person who feels that there is virtue in ignorance both put themselves in the position of being unable to learn from others.  When exposed to new winds of doctrine, the one who feels himself wise will examine them carefully and select those aspects that appear to prove his wisdom.  The one who considers himself just a simple pilgrim will absorb elements of the new teachings without realizing that they are novelties without a sound Scriptural foundation.

It is permitted for a Christian to think.  It is essential for a Christian to think.  There is no excuse for not thinking.

We do not need to be afraid of the Bible.  The doctrines of our Anabaptist-Mennonite faith are simply the teachings of the Bible.  We do not need to fear that they will crumble into dust and blow away if we look at them too closely.  It is novelties based on a unique reading of one or two verses of the Bible that will not stand close examination.

Some folks put a lot of emphasis on “rightly dividing the word of truth,” and use that as an excuse to cut the Scriptures up into little pieces and examine each little piece as if it has no relationship to any of the other pieces.  The apostle Peter gave this warning: “ And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16).

“Wrest” in this verse means to twist, torture or tear apart.  This should be our warning against a too literal interpretation of “rightly dividing” the Scriptures.   The true meaning of that little phrase is to deal uprightly with the Word of God.

It is no more wise to be “foolish and unlearned” than it is to be “wise in our own conceits.”

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