“Walk with the wise & become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20 NIV
My parents repeated some version of that from Proverbs to me just about every day of my early life, usually right before I went to school or was headed out on an outing. I didn’t give it much thought or really (mostly? fully?) connect the dots on what that really meant for me until I was in my teen years; before that, the people I hung out with were mostly people who didn’t choose what I like to call “The Way of Pain,” as their main learning method.
It was simple really: the kids who were constantly pushing the boundaries, ignoring instruction from teachers, not paying attention in class, acting out, & disrespecting/mistreating others were usually the ones that were in the most trouble. And so “The Way of Pain” meant “if you won’t learn from what you’re told, taught, or what you observe, then you will have to learn through consequences, punishment, loss of privileges, & stricter discipline. Nobody had to tell me, “Don’t hang out with Jason,” because I could see with my own 8-year old eyes that he was a magnet for trouble & that he seemed to revel in the fact that his “thing” was getting constant (negative, punitive, & corrective) attention from the teacher, the dean, the principal.
I didn’t really know what it meant to be “wise” or what “wisdom” was, though I was pretty familiar with what the terms “fool,” & “foolish” meant, & I could’ve given a pretty good explanation of “foolish fools” using graphic examples from lives I’d observed in my 8 short years.
Life is a lot more complicated than the elementary years. Wisdom & foolishness don’t always readily (& immediately) present themselves as such; often the outcomes (aka ‘the fruit) of a particular way of life, pattern of choices, etc are what it takes to reveal(?) wisdom & foolishness for what they are.
So is there a way that we can know before we see the outcome?
The Psalmist points us to & celebrates the Law of God as a way (path) towards wisdom; rather than depending on our own experiences or trying to sort through myriad examples of how others have chosen to live. In doing this, he challenges us to engage with the idea that God gave us His law not to restrict, bind up, limit, &/or minimize the things of life that are enjoyable, life-giving, & fun. His Law isn’t merely a laundry list of things NOT to do; it’s an invitation to walk a path that has been laid out in such a way so that we can be blessed by God – by taking His word for what is wise & what is foolish, beforehand, so that we don’t have to see the consequences/results show up in our lives & then, at that point, determine if we’ve been following a good course of action or a bad one.
There’s a lot of trust & faith involved – not “blind trust” or “blind faith,” but the kind of trust & faith that comes from careful observation of a long list of people, just like us, who either made their own choices to do it “My Way,” or who made the choice, over & over, to follow the trustworthy guide of God’s law. Learning from those examples in the Bible is one of the reasons we have an Old Testament – to see how people lived, what they chose, & how their obedience to God’s law (or rebellion & abandonment of it,) worked out in their lives.
And so. Here I am at 50. I (still) start my day with Psalms & Proverbs, with an invitation to God to lead me on His paths, that I can walk with Him & grow to be wise. The longer I live & the more I experience the consequences/results of those choices to walk on God’s path, the more thankful I am that my parents showed me that way, back in the day, when I was just a kid.