Danger Zone

Mercy, Wisdom & Knowledge

Does your religion, belief system, church or denomination lay an emphasis on knowledge or wisdom? Yes, of course there will, of necessity, be an overlap between the two at some point – but it appears to me that the church, at least in the West, has traditionally promoted and valued knowledge over wisdom. And the problem is that we have come to believe that great knowledge equates to great wisdom. This lie is one of the reasons that society in general and the church in particular is in such a mess today.

Having adopted the mantra that ‘knowledge is power’ the church, for the most part, continues to promote the lie that knowledge is wisdom.

I have never seen, on a noticeboard outside a church, the fact that the Rev. so and so is a wise man Рbut seen many hundreds of times the implicit inference the he is a man of knowledge given that his academic achievements appear beside his name. And we seem to think because he is knowledgeable, or at least that he has letters after his name, then he will also have wisdom. Such a belief is not necessarily the case.  To believe otherwise is in fact very dangerous.

A religion that is based on knowledge alone will produce a set of principles, rules and regulations which then become law. So we have ‘Canon law’ or ‘Church law’ in all our major denominations. This in turn leads to a ‘Law and Order’ religion where the final arbiter is – ‘What does the Law of the church say?’

The problem with this kind of religion is that it devalues wisdom and destroys mercy. An example of this is seen very clearly in an old story which echoes down through time to our own day where its modern equivalent is, sadly, still too often evident.

A man lies dying by the roadside having been attacked and robbed. He is subsequently passed, with only a sideways glance, by two very religious men on the way to worship their God. They probably did not notice if the man by the roadside was alive or dead. The reason for their behaviour? Their religious law forbade contact with a dead body on pain of being considered ritually impure.

Next to come upon the dying man was a non religious foreigner in the country – probably a travelling businessman on his way to an important appointment. Yet, to his own substantial inconvenience, he attends to the man, saving his life – even going so far as to pay for his ongoing medical needs.

The inference of the story is very clear – the outsider, the foreigner, the non religious man expressed the true mercy of God – considering the dying man his neighbour – even although, in reality, he was probably his enemy.

There is no doubt but that the religious men who ignored the dying man had knowledge – but did they show wisdom and mercy?

I suspect that true wisdom is to know when knowledge applies and when it doesn’t. And when it comes to issues of mercy, compassion and grace – wisdom always supersedes law and regulation. Is there a time when to be truly righteous¬† you must ignore the law? Absolutely!

But this principal also has a more mundane application in the rough and tumble of everyday life. And we might call it ‘the principal of the other’. I think sometimes we can become legalistic even about mercy – and see in this story only a narrow literal meaning – that we ought to help a dying man. However if we see it as a parable – the truth is there are dying men and women around us everywhere – especially at this time of imposed isolation and loneliness for so many.

The challenge of wisdom and mercy, as opposed to law and regulation (including our self imposed laws and practices), is that we see them and not pass them by on the other side! The challenge is to put others above our diary and time schedule. The challenge is to live out the mercy of the Samaritan (who is in fact a picture of the heart of God) in everyday life. To put others above ourselves – to give perhaps our most valuable commodity in these days – out time, consideration and love – irrespective of the cost to us.


If you would like a free digital copy of a booklet I published some years ago on the story of The Samaritan please click the image below.

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