Why Wisdom?

By Uli Chi

March 20, 2024

Scripture — John 1:14 (NRSV)

The Word became flesh and lived among us.


Wisdom is the art of becoming fully human.


I recently spoke with a group of thought leaders who were asked to list the critical issues confronting those in leadership today. Their responses included the polarization in our culture, the destabilization of our institutions, the fatigue and burnout leaders face at work and home, and the fragility of people who are increasingly isolated from one another even as they are digitally more interconnected.

Simeon in the Temple by Rembrandt ca. 1669

Everywhere we turn, we face seemingly intractable problems. We face a planet becoming less hospitable to human and animal life. We face increasing violence and war in our neighborhoods and around the globe. And we face alarming rates of loneliness and depression from our youngest to our eldest.

This is happening even as humans know more and create new knowledge faster than ever. Moreover, that knowledge is readily available and broadly accessible. Knowledge alone, it seems, isn’t enough to solve the issues confronting us. Put another way, having smart people working on critical problems isn’t enough. As the American novelist Walker Percy wryly noted, “You can get all A’s and still flunk life.”

What humanity needs, particularly at this moment, is wisdom.

So, what is wisdom, and how does it help us address our problems differently?

To begin with, wisdom deals with being as well as doing. Wisdom focuses not only on generating results but also on the personal character and the communal culture created in the process. Wisdom asks the same question Max De Pree was known for: “Who are you becoming?” And wisdom guides us into a way of life that leads to human and creational flourishing rather than its opposite. Jesus, speaking as God’s wisdom embodied in the image of a good shepherd and leader, said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 NRSV).

We live in a time and in a culture preoccupied with generating results. As leaders, we build organizations and create systems to deliver flawless results consistently. Those are noble aims, to be sure, but they cannot be the only ones. As the poet T.S. Eliot warned a century ago, we are at risk of “dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.” Human beings are moral agents. As long as human beings are involved, wisdom is needed to help us to become good in order to do well.

Secondly, wisdom is concerned with our “ends” as well as our “means.” Wisdom cares about “Why?” as much as about “How?” What is the mission and purpose of our work? In my work in board governance, these are the first and foremost questions. Governing boards are uniquely entrusted with mission clarity and fidelity. And boards provide guardrails for the means suitable for achieving missional ends. Boards fail at their fiduciary duty if they abandon those responsibilities in the pursuit of results at any cost.

Wisdom raises questions about these concerns for all of life. What is the mission and meaning of your life and work? How do they contribute to (or detract from) human and creational flourishing? At the same time, wisdom recognizes the complexity inherent in answering those questions. For one, we are often faced with competing interests. Our current environmental and economic challenges are but two examples. How do we create economic flourishing without damaging the planet? How do we care for people while creating competitive businesses? We need wisdom to begin to answer those kinds of questions well.

Finally, wisdom focuses on our relationships with actual persons rather than on abstract ideas or virtual ideals. Wisdom calls us to embodied reality rather than mere abstractions or avatars. Real people are complex and mysterious. As David Brooks has wonderfully recounted in his latest book, How to Know a Person, it takes considerable effort, humility, and curiosity (all aspects of genuine wisdom) to get to know them. Real relationships are difficult. And as wonderful as technologies like social media can be, they can lead us to hide behind an idealized self and reduce other people to caricatures. We turn real people (even ourselves!) into mere words on a page or a post.

In our current moment, we risk turning even Jesus into a mere theological abstraction or political ideology. In the words of the poet Edwin Muir, “The Word made flesh here is made word again … (and) the Mystery is impaled and bent / Into an ideological argument.” Instead of inviting all who are willing into a real community that embodies a relationship with “the Word made flesh,” we have turned our theological and political commitments into partisan and parochial litmus tests that alienate us from one another.

Wisdom calls us to a different way. Wisdom invites us into the complexity and mystery of genuine human relationships. We are invited to be hospitable to those who are profoundly different from us but who share a common humanity made in the image of God. And wisdom knows we live in a broken and fallen world. That means it is easy to misunderstand and to be misunderstood. That means we will injure and be injured in the process. And that’s why forgiveness and reconciliation are so central to living a wise life. Wisdom knows it will take courage to speak the truth, however imperfectly. But wisdom also knows that while “truth is essential, without love, truth is unbearable.”

In the end, I believe that wisdom is the art of becoming fully human. Our full humanity will require us to deal with who we are becoming as well as with what we are doing, to be concerned about our ends as well as our means, and to focus our lives on cultivating authentic relationships with actual persons, even those we view as our theological or ideological enemies.

But what kind of wisdom allows us to do that? We will turn to that question tomorrow.


What are the issues facing your life and work that require wisdom?


Take 15 minutes to write down how your current life and work contribute to others’ flourishing. Try to be as specific as possible. End your time by giving thanks to God for the items on the list and for the privilege of making a tangible difference in the world.


Lord Jesus Christ,

We are grateful that you became the Word incarnate who lived among us. Thank you for entering into the complexity and mystery of being human. And thank you for entering into the pain of real relationships with other human beings.

Teach us to be hospitable and live wisely with those around us, even those we consider our enemies.

We ask in your name.


Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Word Became Flesh.

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Uli Chi

Board Member, Senior Fellow, Affiliate Professor

Dr. Uli Chi’s career is a testament to his unique approach to leadership. He has navigated the realms of for-profit businesses, nonprofit organizations, the theological academy, and the local church, gleaning a wealth of wisdom from each. As an award-winning technological entrepreneur, h...

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