Knowledge without wisdom can be purposeless and sometimes dangerous

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The accumulation of great knowledge does not necessarily make a great person. The key to a purposeful and fruitful life is in knowing God, because in Him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). True wisdom is rooted in an understanding of our place before God.

For example, I am convinced that there are some people with great intelligence in Congress, but collectively they don’t seem to be able to make wise decisions that are in the best interest of the nation.

And yet it may not even be great intelligence that gets some politicians elected. In fact, it appears that many elected officials get in office because their campaign contributions exceeded that of their opponents. More than eight decades ago, America’s beloved humorist, Will Rogers, said, “Politics has become so expensive that it takes a lot of money even to be defeated.” If that was true in the 1930s, I wonder what Mr. Rogers would think of the extravagant expenses required to run a campaign today.

Rogers also commented, “About all I can say for the United States Senate is that it opens with a prayer and closes with an investigation.”

But what about the intelligence factor of those who sit in the United States Congress? Some are very intelligent. New Jersey’s Rush Holt was a consistent, intelligent member of Congress for eight terms, but was defeated for a Senate seat by Cory Booker in last year’s special Democratic primary.

Even though Holt is or was a liberal politician, no one can question his brilliant mind. He received a doctorate in physics from New York University. His academic credentials are incredible. He even defeated IBM’s Watson supercomputer in a round of Jeopardy; and he is a five-time champion on the Jeopardy television show.

Holt’s knowledge stands in direct contrast to several congressmen who participated in a hearing last fall with technology leaders from Silicon Valley. One member of the House of Representatives inanely asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai about the workings of an iPhone – a rival Apple product.

Bill Pascal, writing for the Washington Post stated, “One representative asked Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, ‘If you’re not listening to us on the phone, who is?’ One senator was flabbergasted to learn that Facebook makes money from advertising.”

When U. S. Congressmen are interviewing the titans of technology and given the opportunity to expose the most powerful businesses on Earth to sunlight and scrutiny, they did nothing but show their ignorance of a matter in which they should have been well versed. People in positions of influence and power should have knowledge.

However, it is possible for people to have knowledge without wisdom. In fact, knowledge without wisdom can be dangerous. Adrian Rogers once remarked that a person who has knowledge without wisdom can become “a clever devil.” We have all seen incredibly smart people do prodigiously stupid things. Intelligence can be put to bad use.

Vance Havner, a revivalist from another generation (but I remember him well), explained, “Head knowledge is useful, but unless it is sanctified by the Holy Spirit it can be the most dangerous thing in the world.”

Sometimes, unsanctified knowledge is not necessarily dangerous, but it just leads down a dead-end street. My wife and I enjoy watching Jeopardy when possible. In 2017 there was a 38-year-old New Yorker by the name of Austin Rogers who was a contestant on the show and won $411,000 – the fifth best player of all time, but he works as a bartender, buys his clothes from a thrift store, lives in a small apartment and calls himself “a miserable curmudgeon.”

I would think his considerable knowledge would provide a greater sense of direction and purpose.

A few years ago, Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family told the story of Karen Cheng, age 17 from Fremont, California.  She achieved a perfect score of 800 on both sections of the SAT test. She also got a perfect 8,000 on the rigorous University of California acceptance index. Never before had anyone accomplished the staggering intellectual feat..

Karen, a straight–A student at Mission San Jose High School, described herself as a typical teenager who munches on junk food and talks for hours on the telephone. She even claimed to be a procrastinator who didn’t do homework until the last minute.

Karen’s teachers told a different story. They called her “Wonder Woman” because of her unquenchable thirst for knowledge and her uncanny ability to retain whatever she read. But when a reporter asked her, “What is the meaning of life?” Karen’s reply was surprising. She said, “I have no idea. I would like to know myself.”

So, we have heard that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but sometimes knowledge without wisdom simply leads to futility and emptiness. However, think of knowledge as a necessary precondition for wisdom. If we are to be godly, we must know and understand what godliness requires. Wisdom is the loving use of what we know.

The writer of Proverbs declared, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore, get wisdom; and with all thy getting get understanding.” (Prov. 4:7).

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