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"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom..."

by Matt Harrison (B.A. '03)

As a high school administrator, reflection upon the critical nature of the virtue of wisdom has been paramount. I have found it an indispensable practice, to humble myself and what I think I know about each day that lies before me, and to petition God for the ears to hear the voice of Wisdom. A voice that cries out to me from locker filled hallways. A voice that reminds me to fearfully listen with compassionate intent, and to make decisions that reflect the God of justice, peace, and mercy. I ask for the grace to hear the voice that encourages me to make decisions that are made with bold and holy confidence. And finally, I ask for the ability to hear the challenge of Wisdom to make decisions that lead to courageously demonstrable actions that point the way toward who human beings were always intended to be.

If the term "wisdom" can be classified, at least in part, as that which begins with faithful perception, which in turn leads to faithful decisions followed by faithful actions, then wisdom must begin with the fear of God because human perception is mired by unfaithfulness, irresistibly given to shameless and egocentric visions of itself, others, creation and even God. All of which the true, just and loving God has promised to rectify.

Additionally, I believe that wisdom begins with the fear of God because it inspires a necessary anthropological humiliation. A humiliation that acknowledges that one's perception of one's self is indeed marred by a reckless desire to rule as if a god. The wise learn to fear God because they have come to understand that if nothing is hidden from the real God, this includes our desire and endless attempt at divine usurpation. He sees the human compulsion to replace his life-decreeing, self-giving rule, for its own death-decrying, self-imposing tyranny. Wisdom must begin with the fear of God, because as Justice demands, he will not allow for such an ill-gotten tyranny to triumph. Figuratively speaking, so long as humans persist in flying the banner of its own egocentric kingdom, humans ought to be afraid.

It is important to consider at this point, however, that the fear of God is only the beginning or starting point of wisdom, it is not the conclusion. Rather than remaining confined to an endless cycle of fear-rooted perceptions, and timid decision making, this fear can and should, as I understand it, be replaced by confidence, proceeded by bold decision making and follow- through. However, it is important to note that this type of "virtuous grit" does not stem from a place of certainty in one's perception and/or judgment that either directly or even indirectly claims some type of epistemological or even hermeneutical infallibility. Much to the contrary, our confidence must come from the knowledge that we've assessed a situation and made a decision on behalf of ourselves and others in earnest to what we believe God would be pleased with, as well as trusting the fact that if we've missed something, God is faithful to cover over a multitude of errors. Even better still, I believe that our boldness must ultimately derive from the promise that despite the things we've negligently assessed and consequently misjudged, God in his fullness has promised to work them out for His loving purposes. Put another way, Wisdom accompanied by Humility reminds us that it's not all on our shoulders. We have a significant part to play in God's story, yes, but it's not the only part. We are not performing in a one act, one scene, one character play. It's bigger than that. And always has been.

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