Looking for Understanding
Where can wisdom be found in the world today?
Bastille Day is the National Day of France, celebrated every year on July 14. The day has its roots in an event that was a flashpoint in the French Revolution. On July 14, 1789, a crowd of citizens stormed the Bastille, a fortress-prison connected to the king, hoping to find ammunition and gunpowder. They were also protesting the unfair imprisonment of their fellow citizens in the building.
After an initial round of fighting, the commander of the Bastille opened the gates to the crowd, hoping to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. Only seven prisoners were inside at the time, and none of them had political significance. Then, possibly because of a misunderstanding, fighting resumed and the commander was killed. Soon after, the king asked a duke, “Is it a revolt?” The duke replied, “No, sire, it’s not a revolt; it’s a revolution.”
The storming of the Bastille can be celebrated as a key event in the movement of France toward democracy, but it also reminds us of how much chaos and confusion is part of human history. The angry crowd that stormed the Bastille wanted to liberate prisoners, but found only seven. The commander of the fortress took action to prevent a massacre, but lost his life in the subsequent confusion.
In a very philosophical book of the Old Testament, Job asks the question, “But wisdom where can it be found; where is the place of understanding?” (Job 28:12). Then he answers his own question by saying, “Humankind doesn’t know its value; it isn’t found in the land of the living” (verse 13). Looking at the events of Bastille Day and the chaos of current events, I have to agree with him.
So, where can wisdom be found in the world today? Some people look for it in business and finance, believing that it is wise to acquire wealth and enjoy a life of financial security. But Job warns that wisdom “can’t be bought with gold; its price can’t be measured in silver” (verse 15). He discovered in his own life how quickly wealth can be taken away, when raiders took all of his donkeys and camels.
Better to look for wisdom in the words of God, the one who created humankind and made everyone in the divine image and likeness. When we read the Bible and discover that every human being is equally precious to God, we gain an understanding that cannot be found in politics, finance, or business. Human events can be messy, but we find wisdom when we look to the values revealed to us by God.
Sometimes these values actually make their way into history, such as in the slogan of the French Revolution: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” Such values are not fully expressed in any human system, but they are part of God’s desire for every one of us.
Lord, may your word be a place of understanding for me, as I seek to act with wisdom. Amen.