Wisdom is defined as knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action. We can have all sorts of knowledge in our heads, but if we don’t justly act on it, we’re not wise. We can know more than the average person, but if we don’t appropriately apply what we know, we’re foolish. Moreover, the most important thing we need to know about wisdom is that it comes from God.
If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.James 3:13-18 NLT
One of the things I know in my head is that America was founded with a spirit and belief that its citizens are the source of its government and are responsible for it. Yes, our history is riddled with grievous sin and injustice, but the American experiment set the foundation for the freest country in world history. From our point of view today, the United States’ nearly 250 years of history is far from being a society based on equality. Native Americans were viewed as alien people to be driven outside the bounds of civilization. African American slaves were considered the property of their masters. Women were legally controlled by their husbands. “In America,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, “a woman loses her independence forever in the bonds of matrimony.” In de Tocqueville’s America, the idea of equality applied mainly to free white adult males. At one time full citizenship rights belonged only to this group. Yet, even this limited degree of equality made the United States radically different from the rest of the world.
In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville had been sent by France to observe American democracy in action. At that time, America was a young nation, and most Europeans had only a vague idea about its unique democratic system. De Tocqueville spent the next nine years writing two volumes on his observations. In 1840, the two volumes became a book titled Democracy in America. It is generally known by historians as the greatest commentary ever written about any culture by any person at any time. Free government allows human beings to flourish by providing citizens with authority and responsibility to pursue the common good.
Sadly, the practice of citizenship is under attack today by a form of bureaucratic government in which “experts” dictate rules concerning every area of life. The dying American citizen is a particularly dangerous and concerning phenomenon. This is why we need wisdom more than ever so that knowledge may be coupled with just action.
De Tocqueville saw a disturbing threat to American democracy. He feared that American citizens would become so satisfied with being equal to one another that they would abandon their deep interest and involvement in self-government. If this should happen, the government would grow more powerful and in a kindly sort of way cover society with “a network of petty, complicated rules.” The American government under these conditions could become as oppressive as any cruel European monarchy. Americans would end up having equality through slavery. In the last sentence of Democracy in America, de Tocqueville wrote about the fate of Americans and all others who would choose the path of equality. “It depends on themselves whether equality is to lead to servitude or freedom, knowledge or barbarism, prosperity or wretchedness.”
Freedom and liberty do not guarantee equal results. We are not born equally. We are all born different, which is how God designed humanity. The Bible says God made all nations from one blood, yet He delights in diversity, even as diversity is rooted in common traits. He loves to show unity amid diversity, which is a cornerstone of American self-government and citizenship.
As I reflect on 2020 and 2021, it seems likes we are living de Tocqueville’s fear out today. Bureaucrats appoint public officials as the authority on subject matters and leverage their expertise as a claim to rule us, which cuts us out of the picture. Centralized professional rule versus localized solutions by citizens who care about their communities. To the bureaucrat, all laws and rules come from their team of experts.
If citizenship dies, what follows is not unity, but chaos and division. Why? Because it starts to matter a lot who’s on top, who gets to regulate whom, who gets to make the rules. Bureaucrats compete for authority. They beget unhealthy conflict. In a free country where the citizens are important, anyone who sees a need feels entitled to go to work on the problem and get some others to help them too. It begets healthy conflict in a civil manner. It actually serves to build a local, cohesive team to work on a solution. There’s room for everyone to help out to figure it out.
Americans have always fought well because we fought as a free people. It reflects an integrity and order of things, one nation under God. If you leave people free and give them a stake in things, you will get wonders unfolding, even if it’s messy. Reducing everyone to some common form of rule degrades people because people have a right to govern themselves.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.Preamble to The Constitution of the United States of America