The Myth of Wisdom and Aging

 

“With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.”

 

I agree with Oscar Wilde. I don’t think experience always gives us more wisdom. It just give us more experience. 🙂 In defending himself to his friends, Job said “Wisdom is found with the elderly, and understanding comes with long life.”
At first reading (aka, skimming), it may seem that Job is making a statement. But in its context, this verse may be a continuation of his frustration toward his friends. He’s possibly questioning their wisdom with sarcasm: You guys are old, so shouldn’t you be wiser by now?

Yikes. This gives me great pause when I consider passing on advice . Because I think it’s easy to convince ourselves that if we’ve come through certain seasons of life, we are automatically in the category of “older and wiser.” Since Job goes on to say that “wisdom and strength belong to God; counsel and understanding are His [God’s],” I think it’s crucial to understand that wisdom isn’t some sort of inevitable rite of passage occurring as we age. While experience may help us relate to someone else, we don’t attain wisdom just by living. We attain wisdom by asking for it. And though there is insight that comes through years of observation, unless we allow that insight to be filtered through God’s word, our strategies for good money management, parenting success or marriage health is limited. It’s possibly even distorted and damaging.

From our reading of God’s answer to Solomon, we can conclude that the young leader had the right heart when he first asked God for wisdom (when he could have asked for riches or power). He humbly recognized his need for help as a young man in such a powerful position. (i Kings 3:10, 2 Chronicles 1:11-12). What is sad is that as he aged, it seems he grew cynical. He began to view life from a skewed perspective by trying to find meaning in temporary, human things (Ecclesiastes).
At the end of it all, his conclusions steer us to believe that he realized that faith in God was the only way to find personal meaning. Riches, power, and even knowledge through experiences only led to temporary happiness and eventually to emptiness. It’s fairly easy for us to recognize from Solomon’s life that wisdom comes from God, not aging.

As I age, I understand more than ever how tempting it is to trust in my own perceptions about life. In my experience as a mom, I have formed all kinds of opinions and ideas about parenting/motherhood. As a long-time ministry partner, I have had plenty of opportunities that provide me with subject matter to fill a book with direction to those just starting out. Truthfully, I usually have advice on the tip of my tongue at all times. But this isn’t always helpful. In fact, it can be hurtful. Although my experiences can give me an opportunity to empathize with a young mom, sometimes sharing my conclusions from those experiences brings despair rather than hope. Even though I’ve been in some extremely difficult seasons of ministry, I don’t know the perfect solution for every wife struggling with the circumstances that surround their husband’s calling.

James reminds us that wisdom is first of all pure. That means that my advice should be filtered through a humble mindset and righteous motives. I know this because of the rest of the description given by James regarding heavenly wisdom. He uses words like peaceful, considerate, merciful, impartial and sincere. If my experience through the years doesn’t come with a growing desire for God’s insight and for Christlike maturity, then I don’t gain wisdom. I only have observations. And observations alone eventually lead to skepticism and negativity, as we detect they did in Solomon’s life.
While Julius Ceasar’s proverb may have merit, experience is the teacher of all things only if we are pursuing God’s perspective (through His Word) through the learning process. Getting older doesn’t ensure that we are attaining wisdom. Too many older adults voice their opinions from a place of pride and assumption. It is not acting in wisdom to approach this season of life with a belief that I know it all just because I’ve “been there, done that.”

Last week in our Life Group, we heard an amazing testimony from the youngest person who attends. She spoke with wisdom and passion. It was from a heart that is seeking God and was uplifting to all of us who were there listening. I sometimes hear talk of “that generation” behind us. It’s usually spoken by a person who has concluded that their experiences have brought them much more insight and common sense than the younger crowd. This mindset is often accompanied by an attitude of superiority and arrogance. Neither of these characteristics are found associated with the wisdom of which James speaks. If my observations and advice aren’t good for building up others, then it’s possible that they aren’t coming from a heart of godly wisdom.

Gray hair is a glorious crown only when it is found in the ways of righteousness. (Proverbs 16:31) Wisdom is a treasure and a gift only when it’s gained through prayer and study of God’s word. I think that what the wisdom literature reveals is that it’s better to hear from a passionate young person speaking from a humble heart than it is an older person speaking from a heart filled with pride.
That’s a challenge!
In this my 55th year of life, I am praying that I’ll never stop mining for wisdom from above (Job 28).

Brothers and sisters, consider your calling: Not many were wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world​—what is viewed as nothing-​to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one may boast in his presence. It is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom from God for us ​— ​our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, in order that, as it is written: Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 1

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