“Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.” – Proverbs 8:10-11
Why is money always the answer? The Bible, in fact tells us as much (Ecc 10:12). The more wealth you possess, the less obstacles you cannot overcome. Want to get into the right university? Just buy them a new building. Want to have the laws changed? Just buy enough lobbyists, or donate enough to the right people. Want a secluded mansion on the coastline of Greece? Money will get you that. It would appear that the expansion of riches travels on a parallel line with the expansion of power, and at the outermost reaches of those lines, the list of unmeetable desires seems to grow small indeed.
Is it any wonder that, for young and old, our solution to life’s problems today is as unimaginative as ever… a whole lotta money. Yet God tells us that there is a higher plane, and a greater good: wisdom. Wisdom encircles and transcends even the greatest powers of wealth. Let us imagine wisdom and money as distinct categories. How are we to understand their relationship? It is not quite the relationship of genus and species, with wisdom being the larger taxonomy. Nor is it that money is a large slice out of the bigger pie of wisdom. After all, there are more than a few wealthy people who exhibit very little wisdom, and there is ample wisdom to be found among those who spend their lives in poverty.
We can see wisdom and riches as overlapping circles. A large part of the riches circle is found within the circumference of wisdom, which is a circle that dwarfs riches like the Sun dwarfs Pluto. And while you can count money, you cannot quantify wisdom. This proverb mocks at the very idea: “all that you desire cannot compare with her.” It would be as if you asked someone to set a price on a summer sunset at the beach. The very question is a gross stupidity.
Perhaps a better analogy is to understand money as we would any tool. Wealth is, after all, morally neutral. Its only good is the good discovered by the ways in which one uses it. The accumulation of riches without wisdom would be like building out a hardware superstore in your backyard, while being unclear how to use a hammer. Given the opportunity to choose between a tool and knowledge of how to use the tool, God tells us to take the knowledge.
There is still one larger circle which circumscribes earthly wisdom, and that is the wisdom of God. This is the perspective which locates God at the center of the universe, sin as the cause of pain, and Jesus as the solution. When those are the fixed points that you hang all of your perceptions around, then everything else, including gold and jewels, will fall into its right order. This proverb comes as one more angle on a recurring lesson: wisdom is knowing how to correctly value things. We need to know the value of money, and know that, even if we’re not exactly sure what wisdom looks like, it’s worth a lot more than money.