Frank Johnson

My wife, Jeannie, loves to do crossword puzzles. She is a whiz at those clues. I don’t have the same interest that she has, but I have found that sometimes, my just being in the same room opens the world of knowledge for her. Here’s how that happens. We are sitting in the living room watching something on television while she is working a crossword puzzle. She will look up and ask a question about one of the clues. “Who was Julius Caesar’s friend who betrayed him?” Before I can disconnect from the program and give it some thought, she says, “Oh, yeah, Brutus.” I then smile and nod. I have discovered my role in crossword puzzles is just to be there. All she has to do is ask, and voila!, she remembers the answer. I am very helpful.

But if we are both stumped (meaning: after she asks, she doesn’t remember the answer), information is now immediately available on our smart devices. I may not remember or know the answer to any of the clues, but there is a world of information out there that is just an internet search away. The world if knowledge is a few taps of the fingers or thumbs away from anyone with a smartphone or tablet.

It is amazing the contrast between our present time and the ancient world in regard to the availability of information. Ben Witherington, III, of Asbury Theological Seminary noted in a book on the Apostle Paul that only an estimated 20% of the population in the time of Jesus was even literate — that is, could read and write. That makes sense because writing materials were hard to produce. School involved learning information by rote memory. The educated people at that time were the ones who could retain the knowledge that they had learned “by heart,” whether they were the few who did the reading and writing or not. Now, we just open a web browser and search for what we want to know. And then we forget it again.

A thoughtful Christian scholar named Os Guinness said this week that we Americans have a dismal knowledge of our own history. The anecdotal evidence for this claim hits us when we hear some politicians comment about American history and government. Many of them seem to lack even the basics of the order of our principled republic, and some of them hold positions of immense power within our government (or are trying to become elected to those positions). Knowledge in the political realm now seems to be rated by followers on Twitter and by the ability to reduce complex ideas into talking points for the usual sound bites of television interviews.

We need to recover the importance of wisdom. Wisdom is different than knowledge. Knowledge is just having information at hand. Wisdom is the ability to use that information in the right way at the right time. Here is where the Christian revelation claims to help us. Paul wrote that “in (Jesus Christ) are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3, NIV). What he is saying is not that everything we need to know about everything is found in the New Testament of the Bible. Rather, he is saying that the relative value of the world of knowledge is found in Jesus. He is a transcendent revelation of truth that gives the follower of Jesus a way of seeing the world that leads to wisdom, if it is practiced well (a big “if”).

Here is a word of encouragement as a new school year begins: “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her” (Proverbs 3:13-15 ESV). We need a way of seeing our lives in the world that gives ultimate meaning. Christians say, “Jesus is the way and the truth and the life” (See John 14:6).

Frank R. Johnson is the pastor of the Chestnut Street Baptist Church in Ellensburg.

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