Lady Wisdom stands on the rooftop and cries out to all who will listen, to all who have ears to hear. She offers prudence to those who lack judgment and understanding to those who lack discernment. And be assured that if you choose Wisdom you choose Hope, Joy, and Life as well.

Author’s Introduction: Imagine if Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, and the other great poets of ancient Greece, Rome, and the Middle Ages had been given the gift, not only to peer into the twenty-first century, but to correspond with us who live in that most confusing and rudderless of centuries. Had it been in their power to do both of those things, what might they say to us? How would they advise us to live our lives? What wisdom from their experience and from their timeless poems might they choose to pass down to us?

Solomon: On Wisdom

Of all the treasures that lie hidden beneath the ground, of all the rare and precious gifts that are brought on ships from distant lands, of all the wealth that lies stored in the coffers of Egypt and Babylon, the greatest is wisdom.

Long ago, when I was young, the Lord came to me and offered me a choice. I could have anything that my heart desired, he said: wealth, power, fame, long life. For a moment, I must confess, I was tempted to select one of those prizes that all men from all ages and nations have lusted after. But I did not.

I was young and unsure of myself; I did not know if I could succeed my glorious father, David, as King of Israel. And so I begged the Lord to give me wisdom that I might know how to rule his people with justice and skill.

I say it humbly and with gratitude: I do believe that I impressed the Lord with my request. I certainly know that he was pleased, for, in addition to wisdom, he gave me all the other things I did not ask for: wealth and power and fame and long life.

But the wisdom he gave me was not like the wisdom that the people of your age seem to prize so highly. He did not give me specialized knowledge on how to build pyramids or design ships or temper steel. He gave me discernment that I might be able to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice. He opened my eyes that I might perceive the fine shades of difference that separate the way of the righteous from the path of the fool.

The wisdom he gave me did not manifest itself in mathematical formulas and technological know-how, but in proverbs and parables. He did not fill my head with a thousand facts but gave me a balanced mind and an understanding heart. He did not teach me how to succeed but how to live a prudent life.

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Do you desire, as I did, to obtain wisdom? If so, then you must begin by nurturing within you a fear of the Lord. I do not mean that you should grovel before God, but that you should learn the proper respect and reverence that is due to your Creator. You must learn to recognize and accept who you are in relationship to God; only then will you be truly receptive to his word, his guidance, and his discipline.

Once you have done that, then you must nurture within you a second thing: a passion for wisdom. Wisdom is not like a rock lying on the ground that you need only bend over to pick up. It is a rich vein of gold that you must dig for until your arms are weary with exhaustion, a pearl of great price that you must dive to the murky bottom of the ocean to acquire.

Most of all, wisdom is like a beautiful woman whom you must pursue with intense devotion and single-minded focus. She will have nothing to do with you if you are rude and ill-mannered; but she will reject you as well if you are slothful or indifferent. You cannot love her half-way; you must give all that you have to win her.

Finally, you must nurture within a third thing: a desire for virtue. True wisdom changes the soul as much as it does the heart and mind. Wisdom without virtue is a dangerous thing that makes tyrants instead of kings, executioners instead of judges, charlatans instead of prophets.

If you stray from the path of virtue, you will end up giving your heart to Lady Folly and forsaking Lady Wisdom. You will be clever, rather than wise, and you will come to think of your wisdom as a tool to be used for your own advancement rather than a sacred gift to be guarded and valued for its own sake.

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I’ve noticed something about your age. You seem to be very squeamish about labeling people as idiots and fools. You need to overcome that weakness. Idiocy and folly destroy both those who possess them and those who come into their orbit. Such things must be exposed for what they are.

Please do not think that being a fool means only lacking in knowledge. I do not counsel you to ridicule those whose brains are impaired or who have been afforded no opportunity to learn. The true fool chooses his folly, even as he scorns the instruction of wise counselors. His problem lies not so much in his lack of learning as in his moral deficiencies. He will not be taught; he will not obey; he will not change.

Oh, my friends of the future, pay heed to the call of Lady Wisdom. She stands on the rooftop and cries out to all who will listen, to all who have ears to hear. She offers prudence to those who lack judgment and understanding to those who lack discernment. Her way will bring you good all the days of your life.

Not so Lady Folly. Her voice is loud and raucous, and her manner sly and undisciplined. She will invite you to taste of her forbidden pleasures, but when you arrive, you will find yourself amongst the lost, the bitter, and the dead.

The decision you must make whether to follow the promises of Wisdom or the temptations of Folly is not a single choice. Each day, you must choose anew to whom you will pledge your allegiance.

But do not be dismayed. The more you follow the way of wisdom, the easier and more pleasant it becomes to make that choice. The longer you stare into the visage of Lady Wisdom, the less attractive Lady Folly will seem.

Most blessed are those who stand at the doorway of Wisdom’s house, whether in my age or your own. Choose this day, my friends, whom you will follow. And be assured that if you choose Wisdom you choose Hope, Joy, and Life as well.

—Solomon

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Editor’s Note: The featured image is “The Judgment of Solomon” (c. 1625) by Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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