Socrates was a Greek philosopher who lived in the city-state of Athens in the 5th century B.C. Most of what we know about him is due to the writings of his most famous student, Plato. In the Apology, an account of Socrates’s defense against charges of corrupting the Athenian youth, Plato records how Socrates acquired his reputation for wisdom in the first place.
As the story goes, one day a friend of Socrates inquired of the Oracle at Delphi if anyone were wiser than Socrates. The priestess affirmed that there was no one. That puzzled Socrates greatly: he knew that he possessed no great knowledge. He decided, then, that he would go around and question those reputed to be wise in order to test the oracle’s statement.
First he interrogated the politicians. He found that while many people thought them to be wise – no one more so than themselves – they actually did not know much at all. Then he questioned the poets. Though their writing was impressive, they could not explain it. Socrates concluded it came from some inspiration within rather than great wisdom. Worse, their ability deluded them into thinking they could speak authoritatively on things they knew nothing about. Finally, he went to the artisans. These actually had some real wisdom in their craft. But they went wrong in the same way as the poets; because they had knowledge in one area, they thought themselves wise in all.
Socrates concluded that perhaps he really was the wisest man in Athens: he was the only one prepared to admit his own ignorance.
In Proverbs 1:7, the writer says that fools despise wisdom and instruction. It is dangerous to think that we have all the answers in ourselves. A “fool” in the sense that Proverbs uses the term is not merely someone who is ignorant – it is someone who is opposed to God! They are culpable for their stubborn refusal to be taught.
There is a good example of this in 1 Kings 12. After Solomon’s death, his son, Rehoboam, ascended the throne. The people petitioned him: Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you. (1 Kings 12:4). Rehoboam asked for a few days to consider it and consult with his counselors. The old men – those who had advised his father – told him to listen and to speak good words to the people. But that’s not what we wanted to hear. So he went to the young men – his buddies – who told him to say, My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions (v. 11). THAT was what he wanted to hear: “you thought dad was tough, but you ain’t seen nothing yet!”
The result was that Rehoboam lost almost all of his kingdom. All because did what he wanted to do instead of listening to the voice of wisdom.
This temptation is not limited to Rehoboam or ancient Greece or any other distant day. It is one that we feel just as keenly. Part of our national ethos as Americans is a spirit of independence, of self-reliance. That is magnified in our contemporary culture, which reinforces the idea that there is objective right or wrong and no one can tell you what to do.
Scripture says that if you believe that, you are a fool.
On the other hand, the Proverbs writer says in that same verse that, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. True wisdom is not within us; we must be willing to admit that. But that does not mean there is no real knowledge. You just have to look in the right place. It is found only in God and in seeking his will.
Are you trusting in your own wit and wisdom? Or in God?