02 August 2012

Smart and wise ain't synonyms

by Dan Phillips

I really used to be smarter. Too bad you didn't know me then.

Really, I'll come across old sermon notes or study notes, or papers I did in seminary, and... well, the intellectual trajectory is not encouraging. Nostalgic, yes, but...

Let me illustrate. I've often told you that one of the things I love about BibleWorks is its ability to allow instant, limitless documentation on each and every individual verse. So if you have a thought, or you find an essay on the Intrawebs, or you find a sermon or a journal article, you just get the verse, paste, and it's there for you forever. Absolutely amazing.

So I've made notes during my dozens of Bible read-throughs in BW. The day I wrote this post, Luke 15 was part of my morning reading. Here's the note I found on Luke 15:1 in full and unedited, reflecting several readings.

First, I wrote this:
What is interesting about these parables is that Jesus puts the hearers — us — in the place of God the Father in them, asking us to reason from our own feelings to His.  How would you feel if you lost a sheep? What would you do? How would you feel when you found it? And you ladies, if you lost one of your coins...?  And you fathers: picture this.....
Then, on a later reading, I'd written this:
(Wow, was that my thought?  That's deep, for me! Usually I'll credit a source, if I get it somewhere else.  Guess I used to be smart! Dang!)
Then yet another time, I jotted this:
(Still later: no way I came up with that myself)
Can you identify? I've had that experience prepping my sermons in the current series at CBC, preaching over the basic doctrines touched on in our church's Doctrinal Statement. I'll sometimes find a sermon I'd preached on the subject 10 or more years ago and think, "Hey, that's pretty good... I'll use that!"

I don't know how that sounds to you. The feeling I have when I come across those earlier-me gems is that I'm reading something someone else wrote... except that it has my name on it, and I've never been a sermon-plagiarist. So it had to be have been me. Smarter-me.

But here's the other side of that. To this "other side," younger readers will say "Whatever," but the rest of us will moan, "Yeah, no kidding." Here it is:

At the same time I look back and marvel at how intellectually bright I was, I also marvel at how stupid I could be. Decisions, priorities, the way I handled issues of various sizes... just ouch, and groan, and head-shake, and facepalm, and pray.

Am I telling the yowwens not to study hard and learn a lot of facts and information? In no way whatever. I'm just cautioning that there is a lot more to wisdom than the accumulation (and even mastery) of impeccable truths and theories. It involves that, yessir; but it is more than that.

The moral of this story?

"Wise" and "smart" just ain't synonyms. At best, the latter can lead to the former, via a Proverbial path.

In fact, it had darned well better. For everyone's sake.

Dan Phillips's signature


Anonymous said...

You didn't write this. Someone else wrote this for you. Obama told me.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Exactly the problem with the modern world, Dan: Tons of knowledge and precious little wisdom!

JG said...

I guess that's the nice thing about blogging. It gives us a permanent record, so we have the chance to experience both sides of that coin. I've definitely looked back over things I've written before and thought, "Wow, how did I do that?" And I've also looked back and gone, "Man, WHY did I do that?"

BTW, that 25 Things posts is one of my all-time favorites. I refer back to it often.

DJP said...

Thanks, JG. It was one of my most deeply-felt posts, ever.

Anonymous said...

I was once told that after giving a sermon, we should repent of it as well, for there was something there in which repentance was necessary. Maybe those are the sermons filled with more of the "Man, WHY did I do that?" than the "Wow, how did I do that?"

Tom Chantry said...

Smart is knowing that the title of this post is grammatically flawed; wise is recognizing Dan did it that way on purpose.

GW said...

Uh-oh... Texas and Houston are rubbing off on this man. Specifically I point to the use of the word "ain't" in this post title.

Benjamin said...

Having been an avid D&D player in my misspent youth, I've long recognized this. Intelligence and Wisdom are different character scores governing entirely different abilities. Duh! Interestingly, in a very loose sense, I think that game's creators were on to something: Intelligence governed "bookish" abilities, including the (in-game) amoral use of magic, as well as knowledge of local surroundings. Wisdom governed the ability to commune with one's god (and, in-game, receive powerful abilities from said deity). However, I've always seen intelligence as "accrued knowledge", while wisdom is "applied knowledge". Okay, done geeking out.

Aaron said...


Wisdom also affect the power and duration of spells, medical supplies, etc. In Star Wars it affected one's ability with the Force with respect to Jedi Powers.

LOL. See you aren't the only geek around these parts.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

I love to quote a former adult Sunday school teacher who told us (my hubby and me when we were just newlyweds with no kids), "Write your book now, while you still know everything.".

Good thing you did! Twice. So far.

Robert said...


It is the same thing you discuss at length in GWiP. We have to apply and grow in the practice of what we learn to grown in wisdom. The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom...not just as a starting point at one place in time, but a continual do loop, if you like.

I can not say enough how much people enjoyed studying GWiP in our small group and I'd say that one of the best areas of discussion was about this practice of growin in wisdom. I'd say that our working this out is one of the means that God works through to bring about spiritual growth.

Terry Rayburn said...

Chantry wrote, "Smart is knowing that the title of this post is grammatically flawed; wise is recognizing Dan did it that way on purpose."

"Mystery" is the unrevealed reason Dan wrote it that way. :)

Terry Rayburn said...

Dan, I would posit another possible angle on your [our] former smartness:

As believers we have the option to walk "according to the Spirit" or "according to the flesh" at a given time.

I think sometimes when we write or speak, we are heavily influenced and/or "led" (to use a spookier sounding term) by the Holy Spirit to see and write aspects of scriptural truth that at other times we don't see, being temporarily blinded by the world, the flesh and the devil.

All that not to be confused with "verbal inspiration" in the sense that Paul experienced, of course.

Our writings are not "God-breathed" in that sense -- ever -- but are sometimes more God-influenced, just as our actions may be when we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (which we obviously don't always).

I have experienced what you related, sometimes saying to myself, "My! Did I really write that?", even spiritually profiting from it all over again.

Of course, to stir one more too-chewy grub into the stew, we've all seen others (and perhaps ourselves) "marvel" at former writings as "brilliant and wise", knowing that they are painfully wrong drivel. So our amazement at our former brilliance can sometimes just be what the psych docs call delusional :)

Terry Rayburn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I've never gotten into the habit of journaling, but re-reading the few entries I have written gives me a similar feeling of reading a stranger's work.

It is one of the biggest ways that the unchangeable nature of God and his Word has been illustrated to me.

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." James 1:17.

That's not something I can fathom.