The Oasis - September 25, 2019

Author: Rev. Dan Hollis
September 25, 2019

September 25, 2019
by Pastor Dan

Does not Wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. O simple ones, learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it. Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right.  Proverbs 8:1-6

     I have a T-shirt I love that has a picture of the philosopher Plato on the front, framed by the words “Plato’s Cave Search and Rescue Team,” and on the back it says, “bringing you to the light since 380 BCE.” It’s a nerdy shirt and is only funny if you get the reference. So in the event that you see me wearing that shirt in Hannaford one day, let me give you the backstory if Greek classics weren’t your thing in school.
     Plato lived around about the same time period in which the above reading from Proverbs was written, though he lived in a different country with a different cultural history than the one Proverbs comes from. In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato describes people whose entire understanding of the universe is completely inadequate. He puts forth a group of people who have lived in a cave, chained to a blank wall their entire lives. All they have ever seen of the outside world is shadows projected on the wall from the world outside the cave they have never experienced, and to them those shadows are the only reality they know. Literally trapped in their ignorance, when one of them is freed and allowed to explore the real world, his struggle becomes one of overcoming the blindness thrust upon him in order to be able to see the light. Through his exploration of the world outside the cave he is able to gradually define for himself the shape of truth in a much more real way than simple shadows on a wall.

     Here’s my attempt at a straightforward definition of wisdom: the accumulation… of {1} knowledge, and {2} understanding of truth, coupled with the ability to make informed and right decisions when faced with complicated situations.
     Because wisdom isn’t just about piling up a bunch of facts. Facts on their own won’t do anything aside from personal enrichment. The truly wise person has their life shifted  as a result of their knowledge and understandings.
     So what would an adequate response be for the person freed from Plato’s Cave? If his understanding about the true nature of the world had truly been changed by his experiences, what would prove that he was now truly possessed of wisdom? What would be the right thing for him to do? I might say he should go back into the cave and rescue those in bondage there, freeing them not just from their ignorance but into a much richer and fuller life. That I think is a pretty basic example of an application of wisdom based on experience and knowledge, in much the same way a wise person who had experienced what it was like to starve  would dedicate themselves to feeding the hungry.  A wise person takes the experience and knowledge they have accumulated and finds adequate ways to apply that in their interaction with the world.
     Plato describes his ideal of the “philosopher-king” as rulers who understand the “Form of the Good” and possess the courage to act accordingly. In a beautiful twist of parallelism, this is the same kind of characteristic we can find in rulers the Hebrew Scriptures refer to as “wise.” The philosophical definition of wisdom pulls on a very deep thread.
     And actually, the word “philosophy” itself comes from the Greek philo Sophia, which literally means “Love of Wisdom,” developed to help people escape from delusion and pursue of self-knowledge. As Plato’s teacher Socrates famously said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And in fact that very examination is written on the box we came in. You and I are Homo sapiens. “Wise person.” “Knowledgeable person.” It’s what makes us different than most other living things. What makes us us is the very capacity for this kind of wisdom we’re talking about.

Pastor Dan’s song of the week:  “Safe and Sound,” by Capital Cities

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