This week we turn our thoughts to the Christian skill which has classically been called “Prudence.” This term is terrifically out of date and is rarely used in everyday speech. But if we look carefully at the word we will see that it has an important place in the arsenal of skills that Christians need to develop for the daily battle we face against God’s enemies. In its most basic meaning prudence has a lot to do with what we normally call, “common sense.” But really it is quite a bit more than that. It also includes the ability to think clearly; to be able to follow logical and deductive lines of reasoning.
Jesus points out that the greatest commandment of the law is to love God not only with all your heart and soul, but also with all your mind. The command to commit our entire minds to the love of God is the very foundation of the skill of prudence. Sharpening our intelligence with the work of reasoning is a very important part of loving God fully. What we know of God through his self-revelation in His word suggests a mind. He has a mind with mental faculties far beyond our ability to imagine. We know him as a personal God who loves us and desires good for us. But more than anything He is a God who thinks. He is a God who communicates to us through his Word. It is a Word that he wants us to understand. It is an understanding that can only come through the ability to think both theoretically and practically. It is the ability to turn comprehension of the Word into right action in our lives. This is the very nature of what prudence means. It is an essential skill for Christians.
Now as we discuss prudence this way someone is bound to point out that Jesus urged us to become like children in our faith. It is quite incorrect to assume that Jesus meant for us to put on childish ways of thinking in order to enhance our faith. Careful interpretations of Jesus’s exhortations about “Childlike” faith show that he is talking about a state of the heart, not the mind. He clarifies this rather sharply when he says to his disciples that he sends them as sheep among wolves so they are to be “as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents.” (Matthew 10:16) The childlike purity of heart that trusts Jesus completely, just as a child trusts. But the mind must remain sharp, active, pliant, and carefully tuned to God’s Word; “as wise as serpents.” This is the nature of Christian prudence. A prime example of this is that when our heart goes out to an opportunity for charitable giving, we still carefully examine the quality of the organization to assure that our gifts are wisely employed in the work of the Kingdom.
Another common objection to placing value on prudence as a Christian Skill is that not all people have the same level of basic intelligence. There are two things we need to say to this objection. First, the point of prudence is not to place a value on the amount of intelligence any one person has. The nature of prudence is that all the intelligence one has is directed toward the love of God. God has a particular reason for the way he has designed each of us, but to all of us he has given a measure of intelligence. The exercise of prudence is that each of us should use what intelligence we have to our fullest capacity in our love of God. The importance of reason is not scaled to our mental capacity. Its importance remains high no matter how accomplished we become in our ability to think. What we owe God is to do the best thinking we can with the mental gifts he has given us.
The second thing we must say about varying levels of intelligence is that the mind that is not yoked to the Word of God can never gain the Christian skill of prudence no matter how soaring the capacity for thought. It is as simple as this; great false thoughts are worthless. It does not matter how intellectually intricate they are, if they do not apprehend the truth that God sets out in his Word, they are only vanity and emptiness. Even a very limited mind yoked faithfully to the mind of God will have greater traction with truth than genius level thinking that has departed from the Word of God. This is true on every level of our existence and daily life. It has powerful meaning for science and technology in our day and age though it is seldom recognized.
Let me conclude by saying that prudence is a foundation level skill for Christians. It is why Christians have been so interested in general education, educational institutions, and the whole human pursuit of truth. We live in a culture that is trying to divide academics from what Christians understand as truth. We must be ready to resist and counter with reasoned, well stated responses to our world’s attack on the Christian skill of prudence. It is an essential part of what Christ’s church is set in the world to do.