Wisdom and Wonder

Happy Moltmann Monday!  Below is a snippet from Experiences in Theology p.337:

We ascribe wonder as the root of knowledge to the child, and to the primal child in every grown-up.  What we expect of the old, in contrast, is wisdom. The old are supposed to have become wise through their experience of life and through the approach of death. But although we undoubtedly assume that one becomes wise through experiences of life and death, this process is not a matter of course. ‘Sixty years old and not a bit wiser’ people once sang in a hit which was a favorite with everyone who wanted to remain forever young. But how do we become wise?

Wisdom does not spring directly from experience. It is the fruit of the reflective handling of experiences. It is not spontaneous perception which makes us wise; it is the perceiving of the perception. Wisdom is the ethics of knowledge. If we make a conscience out of consciousness, and hence are cognizant of what we do and leave undone, we become wise. We look over our own shoulder, so to speak, and ask: What are you doing? What purpose do your findings serve? What have experiences made of your life? What will remain when you die? Wisdom is a reflective counter-movement to spontaneous wonder. The wondering discovery of the world is one thing; wise dealings with these perceptions another.”


I appreciate this metaphor of wise self-reflection as looking over our own shoulder, perhaps focusing on the shadow that is cast behind us.  Confession is meant to help us do this, as are all the spiritual disciplines, really.  This is obvious enough, but what I find most helpful is how Moltmann puts this search for wisdom into play with childlike wonder.  I think he’s right that, though different, they ought not be so far removed from one another, as if a chasm exists between them that has no bridge.  After all, Peter Pan grappled with the tension between childlike naivete and his own shadow, right?


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I’m preaching on 1 Kings 3 this week, where Solomon asks for wisdom, and I’ll likely use at least part of this passage.

  2. Danielle ShroyerJuly 28, 2011 at 10:41 am

    Glad to hear it, Matt! Hope it goes well.

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