May 11, 2017 Jacob Bottom

Cardinal Virtue: Prudence

By Gina Bottom

My husband and I recently watched Oklahoma City on Netflix, a documentary about the Oklahoma City bombing that occurred on April 19, 1995. Being from Oklahoma, I have a clear memory of being pulled out of my high school classroom and assembled with all the other students in our small private school auditorium that morning. We were told what happened, we prayed together for the victims, their families and for the rescue efforts. When I got home that afternoon, I spent the rest of the evening glued to my television set absorbing the news. Naturally, I was interested in watching the documentary which focuses on how Timothy McVeigh came to a place in his life where he was able and willing to do such an unthinkable act of hatred toward his fellow Americans.

Spoiler alert: Timothy McVeigh was heavily influenced by the Waco siege on the Branch Davidians on April 19, 1993. Remember the Branch Davidians? I barely remember anything about them, as I was in the throes of junior high angst at that time, but basically a bunch of people were holed up in this compound under the rule of David Koresh in a wacked-out religious sect that ended up with close to one hundred people dying as his followers. As I watched, I naturally thought about Koresh’s disciples, “How can these people not realize this is not normal?!” Sadly it isn’t anything new, as I thought the very same thing when I watched the Jonestown movie and also when I watched Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. As I type this, it has become evident to me that I watch a lot of cult documentaries. Hmm. In any case, if you haven’t seen Going Clear, that is some CRAZY business. That would be a fun one to get me discussing over margaritas. But I digress.

How do people become so misled that they stray far away from what would seem to be common sense? If it happens to them, what makes you and me so different that we’re above being influenced in the same manner? In short, where did these well-meaning and sincere individuals who were probably seeking the same purpose, comfort, and hope as I do, derail?

Today we’re discussing Prudence, the first and most important among a short list of cardinal virtues. Prudence is one of those words that we kind of know what it means but perhaps not exactly, or even more so what prudence looks like in our everyday lives.

The word prudence is very closely tied with wisdom and caution, so if you were thinking along those lines give yourself a pat on the back. Specifically, prudence is a safeguard or “shrewdness” against being misled. Prudence can be as simple as judging right from wrong in any given situation or the more complicated task of recognizing good from evil. The acknowledgement and acceptance of one’s theology and moral code is much more nuanced than one would readily recognize, therefore prudence is extremely significant. The success of any and all the virtues hinges on our ability to exercise this shrewdness in our lives.

Proverbs has a good deal to say about prudence, some of which are listed here:

Prov. 10:19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

Prov. 12:23 A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly.

Prov. 14:15 The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.

In general, the wisdom literature presents a pretty clear theme of what prudence looks like practically.

Practically speaking, the prudent are equal parts thoughtful and silent- in both word and deed.

The fool, however, is one who believes everything and proclaims everything.

Imprudence is especially rampant in our current culture, with articles and headlines being regurgitated constantly with little regard to truthfulness or necessity. This really is both a magical and infuriating time to be alive. The technologies that are readily available to us are simply incredible, especially these little supercomputers we hold at our fingertips that enable us to communicate on numerous platforms simultaneously. Technology has completely changed the fabric of society. Whereas one used to have to earn the ability and the right to speak to a wide audience, we now have many means to be heard and to hear.

Phone calls. Texts. Emails. Websites. Social media and blogs; anyone can have a voice and any voice can have an audience. And I’m not knocking blogs- I have a list of blogs I check regularly and I even have my own, not to mention the very blog on which this will be posted. But we must steer our own voices with prudence- lest we become fools and proclaim our own ignorance and lack of self-control.

There is much to be absorbed in our culture today and much of it what we love to hear, but contrary to biblical truth. Moral relativism, a comfortable life of faith, a sneaky yet diabolical belief that God is as equally committed to our own happiness as we are… that is clear evidence of imprudence. And make no mistake, imprudence comes with big consequences.

It is easy to fall into error, hence the definition of “safeguard against being misled”. One cannot consistently and successfully be prudent without the counsel of others. As much as scripture has to say about wisdom and how to take hold of her, scripture also tell us that “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety” Prov. 11:14. Prudence does not exist in isolation. Prudence exists in the company of others of whom wisdom is given, of whom wisdom and knowledge is gained and treasured through the Word of God. If you need wisdom, ask the Lord for it and ask with confidence- He loves to answer this prayer (James 1:5)! But don’t simply receive wisdom, heed it and practice prudence. Practice thoughtfulness over the information you absorb on any given day. What are the articles that you read teaching you about God, about yourself and the world? What do the Instagram accounts that you follow say about your heart? What do the people you surround yourself with believe? Exercise prudence- keep your thoughts to yourself on social media, think and dwell on information before churning it back out in word or speech.

Let’s resolve to ask the Lord for wisdom, to practice being prudent until it becomes second nature. Let’s resist being easily led astray and let the Word of God set our hearts and minds on the straight path toward true joy and hope as a follower of Christ Jesus.