Wisdom of the Ages

Tonight on The New Hampshire Debates, Fred Thompson mentioned this term. He may have repeated it more than once in the midst of a conversation about how politicians change their perspective. A similar conversation would erupt between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the next hour. John Edwards chimed into this conversation to talk about change. And yet, I wonder if Fred Thompson's word choice wasn't more significant when he called upon the wisdom of the ages.

This is a religious theme. To my quick Biblical search, the exact term does not appear in the Bible -- though wisdom is certainly an important theme. The Books of Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures include the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. These are songs and stories that delve into the reality of human experience in its joy and its pain. And yet, these are not the voices that come to mind when Fred Thompson uses this term the wisdom of the ages. My mind races to the prophets who call for change as John Edwards cites outside of a Biblical context. My mind wonders about the justice and peace that have been held in the center of the Biblical understanding of the world. Then, I start to sing the Psalms, "How long O Lord?" (Psalm 13:1, NRSV).

My Lord is not the candidates that debate upon my television screen tonight. My hope lies outside of their wisdom, experience and arguments so I will continue to sing in tune with the Psalmist. And yet, what floors me about the choice of Fred Thompson's words is that simple fact that my Biblical understanding is always changing -- as it seems our political candidates continue to evolve over a short period of time. This makes sense to me. It makes sense that time and circumstance should change how one sees the world and its needs. While pollsters refer to this as flip-flopping, I wonder if this isn't maturity, study and perhaps even prayer.

As Fred Thompson used this familiar term, I wondered about how our Biblical understanding continues to evolve -- and should evolve -- if we are careful in our study. With time and study, we have learned that Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:26-27 does not condemn homosexaulity but refers to a particular socio-historical context. We have also learned how to understand how the evolving Jesus Movement learned to impose laws on each other that limited the authority of women in 2 Timothy 2:11-14. We've learned how to ignore or argue with these texts as much as we argue with each other. We are learning from this canon of sacred text because it is alive -- as alive as we are now. It's not flip-floping but learning through the ages how to gather wisdom. It might take two, three or four years. It may take 2,000 years. We only know that it takes time.

My question at the end of this debate is not about how we gather wisdom. My question is not about the life experiences that inform each of these candidates or even each of the American citizens. Instead, I'm left to ponder Fred Thompson's words. I wonder about the wisdom of the ages and how that wisdom connects with our here and now. But, most of all, I wonder about who we are listening to. I wonder about who in our present reality we look for for wisdom when we are so quickly to condemn, argue and belittle our fellow sojourners. I wonder where we seek and find wisdom in our present age.

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