Googling Wisdom

Where I grew up we called the library “Fort Book” because it looked like it would stand up well in a siege. Inside, there were rows of filing cabinets housing the card catalogue – one card for each book, organised precisely in deep drawers. If I wanted to learn something, those cards were the indexes of knowledge. Now they’re gone. Now the catalogue cabinets of the world have squeezed themselves into a little bar at the top of the screen in my hand. Getting information has never been easier. No other era of history has had the power I carry in my little glowing rectangle. It’s overwhelming. And it’s easy to assume that having access to humanity’s storehouse of knowledge should make me wise. 

Somehow, that hasn’t happened. If the internet has proven anything, it’s that information, even in never-ending abundance, doesn’t automatically improve anyone. The internet is no fortress of knowledge. It’s more like a jungle, growing constantly, changing every moment. It’s hard to get my bearings here, and even harder to tell what dangers may be lurking nearby. There is no quiet, there is no shushing. I miss the librarians. A hundred thousand answers in a fraction of a second  is convenient, but also confusing, and I need more. Not more answers – a hundred thousand ought to be enough – what I need are eyes that can sift through the chaos, a mind that can catch what is helpful, and hands that are ready to apply it to reality. In other words, I need wisdom. Where will I find it?

My reflex is to google it. In a fraction of a second, I have a hundred thousand answers defining the word and pointing me to a hundred thousand places where it lives. Religious leaders and philosophical systems and TED talks and relational gurus and economic experts… there’s plenty of wisdom online. There’s also plenty of fireworks, as the various keepers of wisdom ridicule the folly of their rivals. Will I follow them because they devastated their enemies in 140 characters or less? Will I listen because their philosophy lines up well with my own lifestyle and comfort? Is that all there is to wisdom?

Call me cynical, but I don’t trust the self-proclaimed purveyors of wisdom. It’s nothing personal. I don’t trust myself, either. I know my heart is biased and naturally prejudiced. I know how easy it is for me to justify terrible things just to get what I want. I know I bring all of this with me whenever I venture into the jungle. I know I sift the answers I receive through my own unreliable lenses, and I’m sorry, but I don’t trust other people’s lenses, either. Their hearts are made of the same kind of flesh as mine. I’m not saying they’re always wrong, but how will I know when they’re right? I need something more stable than shifting opinions, more authoritative than contradictory experts, more substantial than catchy slogans, and better at sifting through the confusion than my own gut feelings. Yes, I know I’ve just ruled out every single human on the planet (including myself) as my ultimate foundation for wisdom.

Exactly so.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” says Solomon. How could it not be? What other foundation could wisdom have, besides the foundation of reality itself? Does it mean I instantly have every answer to every thorny question? No. But I have a place to begin. A foundation to work from. It means I know where Truth lives, and can speak to him directly. A hundred thousand answers can never give me what he can.

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