Wise or Just Gray?

Forget "Not So Wordy Wednesday". I've got words today that I failed to use yesterday, so I'm back-tracking and doing a Trailblazer Tuesday post.

I get to do that because this is my blog.

I was reading in Job the other day - delightful reading :( - and found a little passage I don't remember seeing before, although technically I must have because I've read the Bible through a few times by now.

I was probably dozing through Job those times.

At any rate, I came across today's unfamiliar trailblazer deep in the heart of the book of Job. Let me introduce you to Elihu:

Then these three men ceased answering Job,
because he was righteous in his own eyes.
But the anger of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite,
of the family of Ram burned; 
against Job his anger burned,
because he justified himself before God.

And his anger burned against his three friends 
because they had found no answer, 
and yet had condemned Job.
Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job because
they were years older than he.
And when Elihu saw that there was no answer
in the mouth of the three men his anger burned.

So Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzzite spoke out and said,
"I am young in years and you are old;
Therefore I was shy and afraid to tell you what I think.
I thought age should speak,
and increased years should teach wisdom.
But it is a spirit in man,
and the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding.
The abundant in years may not be wise,
nor may elders understand justice.
So I say, 'Listen to me,
I too will tell what I think.'"

Job 32:1-10

Now I don't want to pick any fights here, call any names, or be disrespectful to my elders, but I, like Elihu, have something I want to say. 

Age, experience, gray hair, you name it, those things do not indicate wisdom. The Bible teaches that wisdom comes from the Lord. Like every other good and perfect thing, He gives it to those who ask for it (James 1:5, 17), He gives it to anyone who truly desires it with the right motives (James 1: 5-8), and He gives it to those who fear Him (Psalm 111:10). In fact, fearing God, esteeming Him above anyone or anything else, is a prerequisite for wisdom.

But age is not.

A number of years ago I was part of a church that traditionally honored its senior members with a specific plaque on their 80th birthday. This Octogenarian Award touted the wisdom acquired and the respect due to these folks based purely on their accumulated years of life. Not only that, but the award exempted these senior adults from having to hold their tongues, speak with grace, behave respectfully, get along with others, and just about every other biblical act of civility. In other words, they had lived long enough to be exempt from the Bible.

The award may have been given in good fun and good humor (although I neglected to find the fun or the humor), but it conveyed several dangerous messages. First it indicated that age somehow means something of significance more than a very bright birthday cake. Folks, the truth is, I've seen my share of 16 year-old fools and I've seen my share of 82 year-old fools. Which do you think is the sadder lot?

Second, the award indicated that age somehow earns you the right to spout your opinions and lord them over others. Like Job's three friends who had failed to state an intelligent case in their discourse with Job, senior adults are assumed to have the right to speak their minds on any subject and the rest of us are thought to be obligated to oblige them with agreement, respect, and adoration. Sorry, but once again, that's just not biblical. The Bible does teach us to be respectful to our elders, and no one is more cognizant of that principle than me. I think we should always speak kindly and reverently to those who are older, but I don't think we always should obey, defer to, or look up to our elders. The Bible teaches us to hold in high respect those who are teaching the gospel, those who are living godly lives, and those who exalt the name of the Lord. Period. Regardless of age.

Finally, this silly award inferred that anyone over 80 is a valuable source of knowledge and wisdom. They can be trusted to know the answers and we should go to them with confidence that they can help. I repeat, I've known some foolish teenagers and some equally foolish senior adults. If you need advice, go to someone godly and above reproach, whether that person is 85 or 35. If you're measuring their wisdom quotient by the Bible, our only reliable source for measuring anything, then you'll be able to spot a truly wise person every time. 

Here's the bottom line:

As I gain more gray hair, wrinkles, and other ridiculous signs of aging that no one ever bothered to tell me about, I don't want anyone to assume that I'm wise just because I have the natural, visible signs of experience. I want my well-lived life to show wisdom, not my hair color. And I want to grow in true wisdom, not just the kind you're assumed to have because you've been around the block a few times. As far as I'm concerned, multiple trips around the block just result in arthritis, tired knees, and bunions, not wisdom. If I'm going to grow in wisdom it will be because I've spent time on my knees before the throne of God and time with my reading glasses eating up the Word of God. And I'm willing to put in the necessary time to acquire that kind of wisdom.

Meanwhile, I am so thankful for the wise people God has put in my path along the way - some old, some not so old.. They have not used their wisdom to lord over me or to make me feel insignificant. They have not used their wisdom as a trump card either, demanding to be treated with deference or using it to get away with bad behavior. They would never do that. Instead, they have, in all ways, behaved wisely.

By the way, because they're probably reading and I would never want them to think this post is about them, let me clear the air on one important matter:

My parents are decidedly two of the wisest people I've ever know. I won't be giving them an Octogenarian Award when they turn 80 (and they haven't yet), but I'll continue to gladly give them my respect, go to them for answers, and defer to them because they have truly earned that from me.