Monday, October 04, 2004


At the reunion of our youth holiday last night, I was telling the story of Dave's cress crisis and my proposed solution. There's no point me repeating it here so have a look at his blog Suffice it to say that I suggested that Dave could make some pesto with cress instead of with Basil. When describing this Cress Pesto, one of the young people suggested that Cresspesto sounded like a musical term in Italian much like allegro, crescendo etc. The group suggested that I should try the word out on those who believe themselves wise and wait to see if anyone admits that they don't know what it means. Ok this may sound a little cruel but I think it's interesting that some young people feel there are people out there that need taking down a peg or two. It reminded me of Socrates and his endeavours to show those who claimed to be wise that they were not as clever as they thought they were.

Plato describes in his "Apology" how Socrates had been told by a prophetess that "no man wiser" than he could be found. Socrates was troubled by this and resolved to find at least one man wiser than himself. So it was that he tested the wisdom of those who claimed wisdom; the politicians, the poets, the artists. Socrates found that not one of them was as wise as they believed themselves to be. In fact he felt that those who considered themselves less wise were in fact wiser than those who thought themselves wise.

So finally, Socrates defended this assertion of his wisdom by demonstrating not that he was AMAZINGLY clever but that he had attained a certain wisdom by his acknowledgement of his own lack of knowledge. One of my absolutely favourite bits from the Bible is in the book of Job. This is not the story of a very happy prophet: he curses the day that he was ever born and wallows in his misery (he did have a LOT to be sad about but it's the wallowing that God objects to!). Eventually God replies to his complaint and asks him basically: WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE??:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements — surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb? — when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, "Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped" Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? Job 38

This is a fairly comprehensive reminder to all of us that we may think we're clever sometimes but we are nothing compared to God. Job shows that he finally understands that we, as mere mortals have no wisdom. Job says: "I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. " Some people may find this a little threatening as those who claimed wisdom found Socrates threatening but it can in fact be the most liberating concept. All wisdom comes from God and therefore we need not exhaust ourselves in striving to prove ourselves because our loving God provides us with all we need including wisdom. So, rather than striving for wisdom, we discover that the source of wisdom is, as Socrates did indeed suggest, the acknowledgement that we know nothing and yet it is more than Socrates suggested. True wisdom is knowing that all our wisdom is from God not from ourselves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

John Hegley said something profound about people who have an overinflated opinion of themselves:

Relieving myself in the Mediteranean
it occurs to me that some of my wee
has become part of the wider sea
which triggers thoughts of individuals
who think they are really big
when really, they are piddley

Regards, Youthblog