Have you ever thought about the difference between wisdom and truth? Wisdom is surely built on the foundation of truth, but I have shared a lot of truth that wasn’t wise. So what is the difference between truth and wisdom? Philosophers have struggled for millennia defining truth. When Jesus responded to Pilate, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.* Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”…even Pontius Pilate responded: “What is truth” (John 18.37-38).
However, for our purposes, let me suggest that most people, outside of philosophers and politicians, would agree that truth is an accurate description of reality. Truth accurately depicts the real world around us, our objective reality. Something is true if it describes the way something is. Ironically, Jesus often refers to speaking the truth as above, but people most admired him for his wisdom. (Matthew 13.54)
Several times come to mind when I spoke the truth without displaying wisdom. One time was when I described the newborn baby of my sister (and my parents’ first grandchild) as a rather odd-looking baby. Granted, I was in my teens, and the baby had just gone through a long and arduous birth canal journey, so he didn’t look like the “Gerber Baby”; however technically true my statement was, it surely wasn’t wise!
For much of my life, I seldom thought about the difference between truth and wisdom. I tried to learn a lot of truth and often would know the right thing to do, but I lacked the wisdom to know “how” to say the truth so it would be received as helpful. People may have been impressed with what I knew, but often I wasn’t beneficial to others.
In Mark 7, Jesus is dealing with a delicate situation when he says…“But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” (Mark 7.35) In other words, wisdom is proven right from the results one sees, possibly generations removed. Wisdom may not be as obvious as truth or facts, but wisdom will be shown to be wisdom because of the fruit it produces.
Wisdom develops from using truth to solve issues and still coming up short. It results from reflecting on why unvarnished truth was not enough. You realize that the facts as you see them aren’t always the same facts that others may see them. You learn to hold your truth more humbly.
Wisdom is having the perspective of knowing how the truth applies to a person, perspective, or problem. For this reason, wise people are not often the first to speak as they are searching for the right way to express the truth to the need not to impress.
Wisdom comes from a deep insight or an understanding of a situation that is underneath what others may or may not see. For this reason, wise people don’t react to what they immediately experience but search for deeper causes that may be at work.
Wisdom knows there is so much more to a particular issue than what initially presents itself. For this reason, wise people don’t get caught up in the immediate crisis because they are searching for deeper reasons for the crises.
Wisdom knows the words which are being spoken are the veneer of the heart that lies deep in a person. For this reason, wise people aren’t offended when others say hurtful words because wisdom tries to understand why a person’s heart is so wounded that it is lashing out of deep pain.
Wisdom knows few issues are as simple as they first may appear. For this reason, wise people don’t give simple, quick-fix responses to life’s challenging problems.
Wisdom knows that seldom is one person all right and another all wrong. For this reason, wise people are slow to ascribe guilt, blame or take sides. Wise people wade into the mess, listen, and seek to resolve the larger issue, not just make one person feel better.
So, how do you learn wisdom? Let me suggest it isn’t just reading a book, blog, or article. Wisdom isn’t directly related to age, but as we are, we are provided opportunities to gain wisdom. We develop wisdom in living and learning through:
- Raising kids to adulthood and beyond and realizing you were the perfect parent.
- Living four-plus decades in an intimate relationship with someone who is very different from you.
- Failing in ventures that at one time seemed to make so much sense.
- Watching others succeed where you failed.
- Developing compassion for others who are struggling.
- Trying to help two disagreeing parties only to be disliked by both.
- Losing those you love despite your best efforts.
- Falling short of the expectations of those you love.
I recently had a conversation with a pastor (with several advanced degrees) who had attended a marriage conference with his wife led by two couples, a 79-year-old lay couple and a 41-year-old Biblical professor and his wife. He said, both had great content, but he learned more about his marriage from the older couple’s wisdom. This is the difference between wisdom and age
Wisdom is built on truth, but wisdom doesn’t need to always share truth to impact others.