Wisdom teeth and wise guys

Chuck Tabor - Contributing columnist

In the two-and-a-half years that my bride and I have lived in Florida, the one area medically in which we have experienced the greatest frustration is in finding a good dentist. There are surgeons and physicians galore here. Even veterinarians! But finding a good dentist is one of the ironies of living here.

Almost everyone has some “war story” about their latest trip to the dentist.

Take my friend Ron, for example. Ron is a 70-ish retired government worker from Virginia. He and his wife have lived in this area for over 10 years. During those 10 years, Ron has had one dental crisis after another, the most recent one being surgery for the removal of Ron’s wisdom teeth.

For almost three months, Ron has been dealing with the results of this surgery – in fact, multiple surgeries – to correctly repair this situation.

Ron and his wife are members of our church and part of our small group, so we as a group have been lifting him up in prayer each week as he faces another episode in the dilemma which we have aptly coined “Ron’s wisdom teeth!”

One question that has plagued my mind since we started talking about this surgery is: Why do they call them “wisdom teeth”?

Now when you look “wisdom tooth” up in the dictionary, you find a definition something like this: “The last tooth of the full set on each side of each jaw in man.” Hmmph… Not much help there. However, there is a parenthetical note there that says that it comes from “being cut usually in the late teens”.

When I asked one of my dentist friends where the name comes from, he told me that he thought it arose out of the timing for the teeth coming in – that normally these teeth “erupt” in the later teen years, and that is traditionally when people think you “get” wisdom — you know, graduating from high school, going on to college, and all that.

Even in the earlier times, most teenagers were planning for a life and career in farming, and, by the time they were in their late teens, they were already, married, working, and busy raising a family. These teeth came in at a time when they were just realizing what life is all about, thus being called “wisdom teeth”.

Which leads to another question:

WHAT IS WISDOM? How many truly “wise” people do you know, and how did they get their wisdom?

Now I did not ask you how many “wise guys” you know. There are plenty of those around. But how many “wise” people could you turn to for advice, counsel, and a sense right direction?

WISDOM – What is it? Where does it come from? How do we get it, and how do we keep it?

One thing is for sure: It doesn’t come from a tooth!

In the Bible (it makes sense to turn there for wisdom, doesn’t it?), the main Hebrew term for wisdom is “Chokmah” – a word used commonly to describe the work of craftsmen, sailors, singers, administrators, and counselors.

Chokmah points to the experience and efficiency of these various workers in using these skills. The ancient Jewish teachers realized that wise living requires the ability to reach sound decisions and to make the right choices, and thus the ability to discriminate between what is right and what is wrong, wholesome and damaging, important and unimportant, wise and foolish.

In short, wisdom is “skill in living!” – and that doesn’t often come to someone in the twilight of those teenage years!

I heard recently about a group of seven retired friends who used to meet every Saturday morning at a Salt Lake City deli for conversation and breakfast. They decided they needed to think about doing more with their combined “wisdom” so, as a lark, they set up a card table at the nearby Salt Lake City’s farmers market and told people they were dispensing free advice.

They even made a large banner: “Old Coots Giving Advice—It’s Probably Bad Advice, But It’s Free.”

To their surprise, people started showing up and sharing their problems. A lot of them.

“Where can I find someone to love?” “Have I put in enough time at my new job to take a one-week vacation?” They also field questions about how to keep romance alive.

“I always tell people that the first thing you do is put down your phone and start talking,” retiree Richard Klein said.

Each Saturday the “Old Coots” have taken on the issues of about 30 to 40 people who come by seeking their advice.

“It’s a way for a person to get an outside opinion from somebody who has nothing to gain,” said member Tony Caputo. “Somebody told us the other day that we’re the most popular attraction at the market. We always listen carefully and don’t give gratuitous advice.”

“To be truthful, I’m not sure that any of us can claim to have much wisdom,” said 69-year-old John Lesnan “but it sure has been a lot of fun. Maybe all of us coots really do have more to offer than we thought.”

The Bible tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7) But what then is “the fear of the Lord”?

Further research reveals that the fear of the Lord is not a sense of terror, but a deep reverence and respect. Wisdom, that is, skill in living, starts then with God….

In the New Testament, James asks a similar question: “Who is wise and understanding among you?”

And his answer is significant: “… the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:13,17).

Throughout the Bible, we see that those qualities come from God!

Wisdom then is skillful living. It doesn’t come from teeth, it comes from God.

If you want true wisdom, start walking with God!

God bless…

Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the News Journal and a former pastor in the area. He may be reached at [email protected]


Chuck Tabor

Contributing columnist