I have a confession to make. I grew up in a fairly affluent family. We weren’t Bezos and Buffet rich, but we were doing quite well. My father owned a bank, back in the day when local banks still existed and served small towns and neighborhoods. With an incredible gift for reading people and knowing who would and would not repay a loan, he made that bank, and our family, prosper.
I have another confession to make. When I was a young adult, struggling to get my feet under me financially, I used to take solace in the idea that “One of these days, I’ll get that inheritance from my parents and everything will be set right.”
Today, nearly forty years later, I haven’t received that inheritance. As steward of my mother’s finances, I have a pretty clear idea of what it might be. When I look at my own finances and then at that probable inheritance, I’m not as excited as I used to be. I’m not saying that I won’t cash the check, but that dollar amount helps to prove the truth of today’s passage from Ecclesiastes:
Wisdom is as good as an inheritanceEcclesiastes 7:11-12
and an advantage to those who see the sun,
because wisdom is protection as silver is protection;
but the advantage of knowledge
is that wisdom preserves the life of its owner.
Better than Cash
For once, Koheleth understated his point. Wisdom is not “as good as an inheritance.” It’s better. Because of the lessons I learned from my father, I’ve done well in the financial realm. Wisdom can help a person earn their own money–and other good things–but money cannot buy wisdom.
Penny and I watched a scruffy-looking man about our age sitting at an outside table at QuikTrip recently. He had a square of cardboard and a Sharpie on the table, and seemed to penning something like “Homeless Vet. Anything Helps. God Bless!”
Lest I seem callous, I have no idea of this man’s story or what set him to standing on street corners, asking for handouts. I’m going to go out on a limb, though, and theorize that he does not have a huge inheritance parked in a brokerage account.
Did this man receive a heritage of wisdom from his parents, his broader family, a church, or a community? Perhaps, but somehow it doesn’t seem to have stuck.
The person with a rich store of wisdom, even when times get tough, will tend to find a way to make the best of things. The one who simply has money showered on them will often run through it pretty quickly. Witness the lottery winners who wind up either broke or having otherwise ruined their lives.
Wisdom is a thing that, like money, can be squandered, but unlike money, it needn’t be lost. Let’s imagine that I have a pile of money and a horde of wisdom to boot. If I somehow lose the money, the wisdom should still be available to help me recover.
Getting in Tune
One of the reasons why wisdom is better than an inheritance is that with wisdom we can see that money is a useful but limited thing. There are, of course, many things that money can’t buy, and when we don’t have the wisdom to rightly view our wealth, we’ll tend to just want more and more.
Another reason wisdom is better than an inheritance is that I have very little control over the size or availability of an inheritance. The poorest member of the poorest family can still pursue wisdom.
Rather than chasing that pile of found money, we should spend our energy chasing a pile of wisdom. With it, we’ll find that we get everything we need and more.