How to Make Wise Choices: Prudence (Mon. March 29)

The word of the day is “prudence.”  At times, we face the uncertainty of what to do.  How do we know what course of action is in line with the will of God?  Today we read  Proverbs 8:-21.  In this passage,  we find that the way to choose the right path is to use the wisdom of prudence.  The wise sage writes, “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge and discretion” (NKJV vs. 12).  Today, our topic is the virtue of good judgment, that is, prudence.

The word “prudence” has changed in both use and definition.  The term comes from the 13th century.  But it has gradually fallen to misuse, as we can see from the frequency that the name “Prudence” is given to girls.  The use of this name peaked in 1880 and again in 1943 when it was given to .007 percent of baby girls.  However, the term has not only declined in usage, the word has come to mean “caution.”  Aversion to risk has replaced its original meaning, a sense that derives from the Latin terms for “forethought” and “discernment.”

Prudence in Hebrew and Greek

When we turn to the Book of Proverbs, we find that the meaning of the Hebrew word for prudence ranges from discretion to craftiness (Strong’s Hebrew #6195, 220). Alternatively, the Greek word in the Septuagint (LXX) translation refers to counsel resulting from deliberation (Strong’s 1012, 56).

In our reading, we also find that the writer of Proverbs associates prudence with “knowledge” and “discretion.”  The Hebrew word for “knowledge” means “craftiness” (Strong’s Hebrew #1847, 47), and the Greek term for “discretion” refers to purposeful planning, whether for good or evil (Strong’s Hebrew #4209, 153).

Thoughtful Deliberation

These definitions suggest that for the wise sage of Proverbs, prudence is the virtue of thoughtful deliberation.  This consideration of the choices before us uses reason to discriminate between good and evil actions.  Consequently, this discernment depends on our ability to overcome the passions that would lead us into reckless and foolish decisions.

Thomas Aquinas taught that prudence is the mother of virtues.  Without prudence, courage becomes recklessness, mercy becomes leniency, kindness becomes tolerance, humility becomes vulnerability, temperance becomes indifference.  In this view, we should rescue prudence from its current disuse and acquire a deeper understanding of it.

Prudence is Not Shrewdness

We have noted that prudence can be viewed as cunning.  In other words,  our deliberation can choose a shrewd and self-serving course of action.  But the view that good judgment is a virtue excludes this idea.  The difference between the prudence of secular philosophy and the deliberate purposefulness of Proverbs is that the wisdom of the sage has reference to God, His will, and His judgments.  Therefore, the prudent choice of action must be in accordance with the ways of God, not merely reason or foresight.

Thus, our reading rejects every kind of deviousness.  The writer of Proverbs teaches, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil, pride and arrogance and the evil way” (NKJV vs. 13).  Accordingly, if we use craftiness with evil intentions, pride, and egotism, the God of wisdom will detest our actions.  On the other hand, Proverbs promises, “I [Wisdom] traverse the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice, that I may cause those who love me to inherit wealth, that I may fill their treasuries” (NKJV vs. 20-21).  God, therefore, measures our choices in life by their uprightness, and these decisions produce the fruit of righteousness and justice.

For Reflection

How can we acquire godly prudence?  Good judgment comes from understanding the will and ways of God.  When the moment of decision comes, it is difficult to step back and apply godly reason to the choice we must make.  But our prayer and study of Scripture, the lives of the saints, and the church fathers can prepare us for wisely choosing the God-pleasing course of action.

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