Many today are thinking about, and praying for, the U.S. judicial system. Wisdom, not ideology or partisanship, is vital to the intelligent administration of justice, so it is an essential quality in this work. While the Supreme Court justices are especially high-profile individuals in the United States, people everywhere can pray for judges who are just and wise in their interpretation of the law.
I like to follow the example of the biblical King Solomon’s prayer for wisdom, when he knew he would succeed his father as king of Israel (see I Kings 3:5-14). Thinking of the diverse people whose welfare he was responsible for as king, he prayed, “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?”
And these words came to him as God’s answer, “Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and understanding heart.” The account that follows shows not only that Solomon’s desire was granted, but also that his wisdom was renowned far and wide.
We can pray for the wisdom of Solomon to inhabit the hearts of all departments of government, but it is in the judiciary that such pure wisdom is most needed. Knowledge of law and precedents, and even legal experience, isn’t really enough. It takes the wisdom of Solomon to truly lift judges above whatever would give their justice a partisan element.
And because this wisdom has its source in divine Spirit, it is available to all of them – and to us – just as it was to Solomon.
“The wisdom that is from above,” says the Bible, “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). Earlier in this same chapter, the reader is warned against envying and strife, and attitudes that are “sensual and devilish.” These negative aspects of thought can cloud one’s wisdom and misguide decisions.
Wisdom is classified as the highest, or third degree. The second degree is described as “Moral” and has the marginal heading “Transitional qualities,” indicating that the qualities listed help us move into the third stage, where wisdom is found. They also lift us away from the first degree, named “Depravity,” which includes negative characteristics such as “self-justification, pride, envy, deceit, hatred, and revenge,” among others.
Probably everybody faces this at one time or another – I know I have. When I’ve noticed self-justification or pride, for example, in my thoughts, I’ve been comforted to know that as we think out from the basis of an altogether good God and His good creation, we see more readily that human foibles and even depraved characteristics are not the reality of anyone.
Each of us is, in truth, the spiritual child of God, and this knowledge enables us to separate ourselves from depraved thinking.
I am working to cultivate in myself the eight moral qualities listed in the second degree, and I prayerfully claim them when I pray for governments everywhere. They are “humanity, honesty, affection, compassion, hope, faith, meekness, temperance.”
Such prayer helps to support good government, but it also helps us as individuals. When we affirm hope in ourselves – as well as praying for its expression in judges and other officials – we become kinder to others and more compassionate toward government.
The same is true for meekness and temperance. To be truly helpful, we need to turn from arguing our viewpoint to expressing the humility of the young Solomon, who essentially admitted that he didn’t know how to judge “this thy so great a people.” He may have used “great” in referring to the size of the kingdom, but I like to think it was also a show of respect for the people he was to rule.
When decisions need to be made, two qualities help move us toward just judgment: respect, even affection for all concerned; and humility in asking for wisdom. These qualities let humanity and compassion enlighten our views.
The wisdom that is “full of mercy and good fruits” is “easy to be entreated” when it is supported by moral, transitional qualities. It is a wisdom that uplifts.
Adapted from an article published in the Oct. 4, 2005, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.