Proverbs 1:1-7 "The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young- let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance- for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
The first four of the seven virtues (prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice) are called the cardinal virtues. The word cardinal comes from the Latin word for hinge; according to medieval thought, the cardinal virtues were pivotal to living a moral life.
Prudence is the first of the cardinal virtues. Nowadays, when we think of prudence, we may imagine someone who is cautious – someone who plays it safe. But prudence really means the sound judgment that is born of wisdom. A prudent person can determine when it may be necessary to take a risk for the sake of a greater good, whereas a foolhardy person risks without calculating the cost. Prudence is the practice of applied wisdom, determining what is virtuous, and what is not.
In the opening to Proverbs, Solomon tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Those of us who wish to be prudent must first show respect and reverence to God, submitting our reason and our will to his guidance.
I once asked one of the wisest men I know how I could become wise. He was a high school principal for over forty years and, over the course of his career, had made difficult decisions that affected the lives of countless students and their parents. When I asked him, he laughed gently and said, “Well, I don’t know about being wise. But I do spend a lot of time in prayer.”
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