Socrates and Godly Wisdom

Today’s message text from Melvin Gaines:

One of the subjects required in my Master’s track is the study of philosophy. Philosophy is something that I was not looking forward to, but I knew that it would most certainly stretch my thinking about the subject as it relates to matters of faith.

What is philosophy? Well, defining philosophy is not a slam-dunk. Wikipedia took a crack at it by defining it as the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. In other words, philosophy is the study of everything. The word itself comes from the Greek word philosophia, which means, “love of wisdom.”

When I think of the early philosophers, my imagination paints a picture of a bunch of guys hanging out on a street corner and talking all day long about whatever comes to mind. Then my imagination takes me to today’s barber shop, where guys are talking what has to be all day long while maybe two heads of hair have been cut or trimmed over the course of five hours, or sitting at McDonald’s listening to guys get together over coffee and Egg McMuffin talking, or loudly discussing, or even cussing about current events and politics. The conversation mercifully ends when I learn my car is ready to be picked up and I make a fast exit to the door.

To be clear, philosophy is not just a bunch of guys getting together talking smack or playing the dozens. Back in the day, specifically around 500 B.C., there were very serious discussions that took place about life, water, earth, air, atoms, the sun, moon and stars. Of the class of philosophical all-stars, one of the greatest was Socrates. Socrates (470-399 B.C.) lived in Athens, Greece, the hotbed of all activity when it came to progressive thought, for all of his life. If you ever get the opportunity, you will want to read about Socrates. Of all of the historical philosophers, Socrates never recorded his thoughts or findings. He felt that his written words would diminish his spoken words. If it weren’t for Plato, a student of Socrates, we wouldn’t even know who he was. Plato was fascinated with Socrates, and he wrote down everything meaningful about him. He even noted that Socrates was married, and there were many occasions where his wife would send him out for errands only to learn that he was hanging out on the street corner talking with guys for all hours of the day. It got to the point that Socrates was so occupied with these ongoing discussions that his wife would hide his clothes to keep him from going outside. Undeterred, Socrates would run outside naked through the streets to his meeting place with the guys, who got tired of seeing him naked and kept robes handy to hand off to Socrates to cover himself. After learning about this, I then found this quote attributed to Socrates about marriage:

“My advice to you is get married: if you find a good wife, you will be happy; if not, you will become a philosopher.” — Socrates

I can’t say that Socrates didn’t ask for trouble with his wife, but I suspect that his home could have been a little happier.

Socrates never claimed that he was a teacher. He was a thinker. That was his specialty. In his thinking, he came up with very wise sayings. He was also quite controversial in his ongoing dialogue with others; so much so that he ticked a lot of people off and was arrested for subversion, incivility and corruption of minors. In his famous defense before a jury of 501 peers, Plato attributed Socrates with a couple of quotes that really stood out to me. First:

“For each time those present think I am wise in these things in which I refute others; but the fact is, men, in reality God is wise, and in this oracle it is saying, ‘Human wisdom is worth little or nothing.”  

This statement was indeed part of his “Defense”, but it is profound beyond what Socrates probably realized or even intended. It was a common belief, according to the pre-Socratic practice of Homeric religion that all men, whether good or evil, would reside in Hades after death in a state of consciousness and not in punishment. [2] Socrates implied that he did not know for sure what to expect after death, but he reasoned “he would ask the shades in Hades if they had any knowledge.” [3] Perhaps without even realizing it, he referred to the only true Source of wisdom that would have answered a number of his questions pertaining to knowledge:

Proverbs 2:6-7 (ESV)

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity.

 

James 1:5 (HCSB)

Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.

 

Socrates was correct in his assessment that “human wisdom is worth little or nothing.” This conclusion was based upon his statement that God’s wisdom is superior to man’s wisdom.

 

1 Corinthians 1:25 (ESV)

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Corinthians 3:19-20 (HCSB)

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, since it is written: He catches the wise in their craftiness; and again, The Lord knows that the reasonings of the wise are meaningless.

 

When you think you know something, you really don’t know anything.

True wisdom comes from God.

As I learn more and more from my own personal studies in business, corporate communications, and especially in pursuit of my Master’s in Christian Studies, I readily see that I didn’t really know as much as I thought when I was asked to bring a Sunday morning message to my church back in 2003. I now know that I have more knowledge about Christ and the things of Christ when compared to that time in my life, but I’m also smart enough to know that I am just beginning to learn more, and that is only because of God’s graciousness in providing greater understanding of His Word and His truth in my life.

Socrates’ other philosophical statement also was profound to me:

“…the greatest good for humanity to make arguments every day about virtue and examine myself and others, the unexamined life not being livable for a person.” [4]

This brought to mind the slogan for the United Negro College Fund advertisements approximately forty years ago: “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste.” While this was coined by the advertising agency Young and Rubicam for the purpose of promoting UNCF’s scholarship fund [5], that phrase has taken on an iconic status for its boldness and profound truth, and not just for black students, but for all students and all of mankind.

On a personal note, I believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and my personal Savior, but even with this knowledge, I cannot, in my own flesh, maintain a relationship with Jesus Christ without self-examination. Self-examination of my life in the flesh and sinful behaviors will always show my need for repentance and forgiveness under the blood of Christ. My act of humbling myself helps me to see my need for Jesus, and it also helps me to see others the way that Jesus sees them, as well. All of this requires self-examination. How would life be for a person that does not see the need to examine oneself? According to Socrates, this is a wasted life…a wasted mind. In order to live a virtuous life, there must be an internal reasoning and recognition of the need for a close relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and in that realization, you will see how Christ can be projected to others in how you live a meaningful, purpose-filled life.

Socrates was constantly seeking answers to truth and wisdom when he had those answers right in front of him. It’s sad to think that people live their entire lives without making a choice to live a purpose-filled life for Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-7 (HCSB)

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

 

  1. Document – Vernon Caston. The Defense of Socrates by Plato, Week 1 Lectures – Introduction and PreSocratics, Logic; Topics in Philosophy CST5225, Crown College, St. Bonifacius MN., pg. 54
  1. Gordon H. Clark (1957). Thales to Dewey, A History of Philosophy, Fourth Edition. Copyright © 1957 Lois A. Zeller and Elizabeth Clark George.   Copyright © 2000 John W. Robbins, The Trinity Foundation, Unicoi TN, page 30.
  1. Donald Palmer (2014). Does The Center Hold? An Introduction to Western Philosophy, Sixth Edition. Copyright © 2014 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., New York NY, pg. 33.
  1. Document – Vernon Caston. The Defense of Socrates by Plato, Week 1 Lectures – Introduction and PreSocratics, Logic; Topics in Philosophy CST5225, Crown College, St. Bonifacius MN., pg. 63
  1. Article – Gene Denby (2013). New Ads Still Warn A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste. Code Switch. Retrieved September 11, 2014 from http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/06/14/191796469/a-mind-is-a-terrible-thing-to

Copyright © Melvin Gaines

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About melvingaines

I am a communications professional, author and inspirational speaker with experience as a business owner and corporate management for over 25 years. I am a member of the National Association of Black Accountants and served as President of the National Association of Credit Management, Greater Akron (OH). I have also been a member of the American Collectors Association International, Inc. and the Commercial Law League of America. I am presently a Sunday school instructor at Akron Alliance Fellowship Church in Akron and moderate over numerous bible studies and church cell group sessions. My degree is in Business and Organizational Communication from The University of Akron, and I am working on my M.A. in Christian Studies with Crown College (MN). My hometown is Cleveland (the center of the universe) and I am married to my lovely childhood sweetheart, Lynn. View all posts by melvingaines

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