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Volume 9, Issue 2: Childer

Wisdom

Douglas Wilson

Wisdom is not made out of wood and neither are our children. When Christian parents seek to bring the two of them together, they must resist all wooden techniques. They must be wise themselves, and wisdom is supple. The only useful wood in the whole scenario is that of the spanking paddle, provided it is not applied by parents with wooden heads.

"My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding" (Prov. 2:1-6).
Consider the verbs which a concerned father urges upon his son in this instruction. These verbs are remarkable--receive, treasure, incline, apply, cry out, lift up, seek, search, understand, and find. In our modern approach to child-rearing we want one verb equipped with an off-switch--do and don't.
Because we want our children to "do" and "not do," we look for books and instruction that will teach us how to be parents the same way. Do this and don't do that. "Okay," we say, and perform our assigned task, whatever it was, and then like a dog just returned with the stick, we sit expectantly waiting for our next assignment. We connected all the dots, we painted all the numbers, we fetched all the sticks, and attended all the workshops. Now we only have to wait on the promises of God!
But the wisdom required for parenting is not well represented by one switch with an on and off. A better picture would be fifty-eight switches for each kid, and all of them with a dimmer attachment. Parenting is hard work, and the hardest part is the pursuit of wisdom.
We tend to assume that statements like "parenting is hard work" mean nothing more than that parents have to get up in the middle of the night, work hard to provide for physical needs, be diligent in discipline, etc. Of course these are all part of it, but the center of our labors is a parental pursuit of wisdom--study, meditation, prayer, and obedience--in which our children are included. ("Oh, good! He listed four things to do!")
All this may create a temptation to despair. How is it possible for us to do, oops . . . this? We are sinful and fallen and we think the task is way beyond us. Can anyone be wise? We can follow a checklist, and so, we tell the experts, give us that checklist! We want our instructors to provide us with a JiffyLube for the Soul.
First, the Bible tells us to pursue wisdom. In assigning this task, Scripture tells us that it is both difficult and possible. Mining gold is possible, but not in your back yard. A man can feed himself, but not by lying on his back with his mouth open. When Scripture tells us to pursue wisdom in how we bring up our children, we must always remember that these words are given to us, in our condition. The book of Proverbs, for example, was not given to Gabriel and Michael who don't have any kids. This means that when we urge our sons to search for wisdom as for hidden treasure, we must know from experience as forgiven sinners what that search is like. It is not like playing hide and seek with a two-year-old.
We have become so lazy that the complexities associated with the pursuit of wisdom are written off as impossible or are confused with relativism. Suppose one of our children has been caught doing something which is clearly sinful. We want someone to tell us what we are supposed to do about it. If the response is it depends, we think we are dealing with creeping liberalism. Now relativists will certainly say that everything depends, but so will wise men, well-versed in God's absolutes. So how can we tell them apart? It depends.
Second, we must consider also the conclusion of the passage. The Lord gives wisdom, and from His mouth come wisdom and understanding. When we pursue, treasure, or seek wisdom from any other storehouse than those which He has given, we are going to be frustrated over and over again.
Wisdom is based squarely upon the grace of God. He gives it. Not to put too fine a point on it, when He does not give it, it is not there. The search for wisdom is therefore both relational and propositional. We must know the One who speaks and what He has said.
Wisdom comes from the Lord, which is not the same thing as saying that it comes from everyone who speaks in His name. Before all else, Christian parents must seek His wisdom.

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