Two Kinds of Wisdom

Posted on: August 23, 2018, by :

Our Sunday morning themes for the month of September are set by the Letter of James.  It is perhaps the oldest writing in the New Testament, but I have been struck this week by its amazing contemporary relevance to Australian politics and culture.

As I write, Malcolm Turnbull is Prime Minister of Australia.  By the time I finish he may not be!  What a shemozzle we are witnessing in the Liberal Party, and perhaps in the Parliament as a whole, as those accorded the privilege of governing our nation seem to be driven not by genuine national interest but by the lure of personal power.  What has happened to politics in Australia?  How can people, who presumably started out with sincerely altruistic ideals, so readily compromise their values and betray their principles in what appears to be a blatant grab for power?  What is it about the human condition that causes us to lust after power and strive endlessly to be masters of our own destiny?

In his ‘letter’ to the early Christian Church, the writer of James addresses this yearning, this drivenness, this quest for power at all cost.  Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. [James 3:13-18].  If only that sort of wisdom could be more prevalent within the halls of Parliament House!  The writer offers more good advice to politicians: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness [1:19,20], and suggests that the true ‘work’ that God blesses is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world [1:27].  The writer also reflects on the issues of partiality (doing favours out of self-interest), the challenge of ‘taming’ the tongue, the tendency to judge others, and the mandate to practice what we preach.  Listen up, you politicians!

It has been said that we get the politicians we deserve.  Perhaps there is much truth in that.  Are the attitudes and practices we lament in Canberra are simply a microcosm of Australian society, reflective of the culture and behaviour of the general community?  Are the compromises and betrayals we bemoan in our politicians are simply a reflection of our own attitudes and behaviour?  Could I take the admonition of the writer of James to be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves [1:22] more seriously and reflect on its application in my own life?  Perhaps it’s not just the politicians who need to listen up!

David Brooker

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