There’s a memorable scene in The Departed, in which soon-to-be police academy graduate Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is summoned to an interview with Oliver Queenan (Martin Sheen), head of the Special Investigations Unit. “I have a question for you,” says Queenan. “Do you want to be a cop, or do you want to appear to be a cop? It’s an honest question. A lot of guys just want to appear to be cops. Gun, badge, pretend they’re on TV.”
That scene flashed through my mind the other day as I was reflecting on Proverbs. Bizarre, I know – it’s not everyday Solomon and Martin Scorsese appear in the same thought-process – yet it struck me that, as believers, we should be asking ourselves a similar question (preferably with a Boston accent): “Do I want to be wise, or do I want to appear to be wise?”
It doesn’t take a M.Div to realize those are two radically different goals. When we pursue wisdom, not for itself, but for the prestige it can bring us, we have effectively butchered the very definition of what it is to be wise. Wisdom, we should recall, begins with the fear of God – and God is not impressed with mere externals. He looks on the heart.
My buddies may regard me as the intellectual heir to St. Augustine himself, but if all I’m after is appearances, I’m asking God to work me over with a baseball bat. A little humble pie – right smack in the face. Looking the part of the wise man isn’t enough, and if I persist in thinking differently, it probably won’t be long before someone reaches up to tear the robe from off my back and reveal all that naked folly underneath. “Those threads you’re wearing? They aren’t yours, son. They don’t belong to you. You haven’t earned them.”
Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her. She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee. (Prov. 4:7-9)