According to a 2016 report by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, by the 2015-2016 school year, half of all students surveyed reported having attended counseling for mental health concerns.
In 2009, 37% of students complained about problems with anxiety. The percentage of students with anxiety reached 46% in 2013 and 51% in 2016.These years also experienced an increase in rates of self-injury and suicide among college students (Haidt and Lukianoff, The Coddling of the American Mind, p.156-157). Be it deconstructionism or postmodernism, these are anxious times.
We live in a world of swirling confusion, and yet we are a new creation in Christ. “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:16-19, ESV).
Is this how you experience your day when you wake up or at the end of your day? How can we be new in a world that feels like it’s decaying? When we can almost feel our own decay everyday?
In N.T. Wright’s book, After You Believe, he posits that the focus of your faith in Christ when you come to faith is to develop your character or virtues. He roots his argument in the biblical image of God’s people as priests and rulers.
“Humans are called, in and through Jesus Christ, to become what they were always made to be. And what they were made for can be summarized in one single word: glory. . . . Glory is a standard biblical way of referring to the wise rule of humans over creation” (p.89).
N.T. Wright alludes to the stewardship of character in Chesley Sullenberger III, known as “Sully.” The flight captain lost no lives on the Airbus A320 on January 15, 2009 after running into a flock of Canadian geese and emergency landing in the Hudson River.
N.T. Wright argues that while this feat could be viewed as “miraculous,” one must take into account the years of training, experience, and consequential skillfulness Sully had to have possessed in order to successfully maneuver a large, disabled aircraft over New York City. Sully is an example of one who has developed in character or virtue.
We can exercise stewardship as priests and rulers over creation in various contexts, such as through our skills in our vocation. For most of us, while our educational path and work experience provide a natural structure to grow in our vocational skills, one area of stewardship that relies heavily on our own initiative is stewardship of our emotional health and relationships.
There is no academic degree that can help us measure our dexterity in interpersonal skills or emotional regulation to ward off anxiety and depression. This is a journey whose effectiveness can only be measured by those those who walk in intimacy with us and will ultimately be measured by Christ when He returns.
The dominant way we can grow in character is in the interpersonal realm. In Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, author and pastor Peter Scazzero writes during a challenging time in his family’s life, “We learned a lesson we would never forget: even though we had been committed Christians for almost twenty years, our ways of relating mirrored much more our family of origin than the way God intended for His new family in Christ” (p.29).
Do you find that anxiety and depression are preventing you from experiencing newness in Christ? Areas where you can improve in human flourishing? What does it even mean to flourish as a Christian?
There are 237 occurrences of “shalom” in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, “shalom” means the state of completeness, wholeness, flourishing, being fully human the way we are meant to be. Armed with Wisdom Literature from the Bible, we will find that human flourishing can be defined as a combination of righteousness and wisdom.
In The Fear of the Lord Is Wisdom by Tremper Longman III, he writes,
“Throughout the book of Proverbs, righteousness and wisdom are interchangeable terms. One cannot be wise without being righteous. In the same way, folly and wickedness are inextricably intertwined. Foolish behavior is evil. If we understand this, we recognize the ethical dimension of wisdom. But even so, we have not yet arrived at an adequate understanding of wisdom according to the book of Proverbs” (pg. 11).
Theologian Nick Nowalk goes into depth about wisdom. In his writing he posits that wisdom is set apart from the modern secular reduction of happiness and wellness absent of any requirements as related to human character while surpassing the reduction of delighting in the Lord to merely feeling warm and scintillating feelings upon reflecting on God’s grace.
From where does wisdom come?
Wisdom is a gift from God alone (Job 28, Romans 11:33-36).
“To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Romans 16:26-27, ESV).
What is wisdom?
“Wisdom is always oriented to creation, always grounded in God’s original design for the world and its future flourishing in his care forever.” (Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction, Craig Bartholomew and Ryan O’Dowd, p. 248)
Theologian Nick Nowalk says, “Wisdom is God’s blueprint for creation, the design behind the moral and physical order of the universe. Wisdom is the way the world works. Wisdom in human beings is conformity to creation order, living life in tune with the harmony of creation, with the grain of the universe rather than against it.”
Wisdom is not a manufacturing of ideas and solutions, but a harmonizing of God’s created order.
Nowalk continues, “There is a physical and moral order to this world. Sex, work, money, relationships, truth, speech, lifestyle: objective patterns are there to be discerned and embraced, not subjectively created or constructed according to our own private desires. Above all else, the wise person knows this and seek to align their life with this truth.”
Humans are to pursue an understanding of God’s created moral and physical order, not extract our own belief systems as to how the world should be.
Thoughtful readers can find mention of wisdom in the Book of Proverbs, Deuteronomy, Ecclesiastes, Job, Psalms, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Genesis 39-50, and Daniel.
According to Nowalk, we can understand wisdom as:
1) Knowledge and recognition of this moral order that God has placed in the universe
2) The glad embrace and delight in this order, and the submission of the heart to it
3) The skill of applying this knowledge in practical ways to every circumstance in life
What are some characteristics of the wise? What does wisdom look like in people?
Based on the Wisdom Literature mentioned above, according to Nowalk, the wise:
1) Listen instead of speak to God and to others
2) Are teachable instead of stubborn
The clear distinction between the wise and foolish, the righteous and wicked, is in the way they respond to failure and difficulty in their lives.
3) View of all life as relational, not abstract or disconnected. They can see a connectedness in relation to the Lord of creation.
Wisdom is saying or doing the right thing at the right time to/with the right people in the right circumstances.
What is right is rooted objectively in the way that God made the world, but second, that each subjective situation calls for discernment and mature application to unique circumstances.
“Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools . . . Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools.” (Proverbs 26:7, 9)
Wisdom is knowing when to be silent even when one has the knowledge and experience to respond. For more examples of discernment you can refer to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Proverbs 26:3-5, John 11:17-33, and the Book of Job.
How to Obtain Wisdom
How does one become wise? Nowalk elaborates that the Scriptures say:
1) Ask for wisdom (Proverbs 2:1-8, James 1:5)
Leave everything and follow Jesus, the Wisdom of God Himself
2) The Cross is the wisdom of God
First Corinthians 1-2 speak a clear and provocative word: If you take up the Cross and follow Jesus, you are wise; reject Jesus, then you’re a fool.
How Does This Work Out for Me in My Current Circumstances?
While wisdom is not the magic pill to cure anxiety and depression, growing toward shalom will better equip us to manage and understand our burdens and suffering.
God desires for you to flourish. If you struggle with the motivation to seek Christ and His wisdom and it is difficult to believe that wisdom is “better than gain from silver” or will “profit better than gold” (Proverbs 3:14, 16:16), perhaps you can seek the Lord in prayer about support as you ask for wisdom.
You can rely on a trusted pastor or mentor in your church who might be willing to walk alongside you to sort through what righteousness might look like in your life and how righteousness relates to your pursuit of shalom or wholeness.
This might be a good opportunity to seek help from us as Christian counselors in your journey of wisdom to understand God’s moral and physical order and your story within God’s story.
“Looking Across the Water”, Courtesy of Nicolas Prieto, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Chemicals”, Courtesy of Matt Briney, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Milkey Way”, Courtesy of Casey Horner, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Lamps”, Courtesy of Florian Bernhardt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License