26 August 2023

Wisdom and wellbeing: What does the Bible say?

Lieut-Colonel (Dr) Eirwen Pallant

Lieut-Colonel (Dr) Eirwen Pallant seeks the healthy option.

Key text

Wellbeing is a common theme in some areas of today’s society. The Covid-19 epidemic and then the cost of living crisis have impacted on people’s wellbeing and are a concern for many.

Pause and reflect

  • What do you understand by the term ‘wellbeing’?

I’ve always liked the word ‘shalom’, which is steeped in the Jewish tradition of wellbeing, meaning more than just health but the wellbeing of a whole person. The study passage we are looking at today comes from that same faith tradition and tells us that wisdom bestows wellbeing. It is part of the Wisdom literature of the Bible found in the Old Testament, which includes Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes – some commentators would also include Psalms and the Song of Solomon. The writers of these books are concerned with the meaning of life and how to live that life well.

Pause and reflect

  • What do you consider to be the meaning of life?
  • What do you think we need to live well?

Wisdom is a word that can mean different things to different people – the ability to apply academic learning, having common sense and being streetwise are just a few.

The ‘wisdom of Solomon’ seems to have been legendary in his day. Even now, when someone is facing a particularly difficult or tricky problem, we refer to them needing the ‘wisdom of Solomon’. In 1 Kings 3:9, we read that God appeared to Solomon in a dream and told Solomon to ask for whatever he wanted.

Solomon asked for ‘a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong’. Because Solomon didn’t ask for something that benefited himself but, instead, benefited his people, God was pleased with his request. God, therefore, not only granted him wisdom but also added many other benefits as well.

Image shows a tree standing in a verdant field before a bright blue sky.

Proverbs 3:5 and 6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Read Proverbs 3


I think a good start to defining ‘wisdom’ is to be able to discern what is right and what is wrong.

Pause and reflect

  • What do you think about that description?
  • How would you describe wisdom?

The teaching in Proverbs 3 reflects the experience of the author’s life that he wants to pass on to his son. However, it is important not to see these verses as promises from God. Other Wisdom literature, such as Job and Ecclesiastes, emphasises that doing the right thing doesn’t always result in an easy or pleasant life. Yet this is what the author of this passage, generally thought to be Solomon, has found.

In the preceding chapter, Solomon says that, if his son looks for wisdom, he will find the knowledge of God. In Proverbs 3:5–7, he recommends his son should not rely on his own understanding; instead, he should trust in God and give him the place of honour in his life.

This is the basis of what he wants to teach his son. It is the most important lesson that he wants his son to learn and reinforcement of that truth is scattered throughout Proverbs. The other things are simply the extra benefits that he has been given, for which he is grateful, but which don’t hold the same importance.

When my children were young, they loved going to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal. It wasn’t the meal itself that attracted them, although that is what satisfied their hunger. It was the bonus toy that came with it that always drew them in.

Sometimes we can mistake the bonus for the meal. Riches, fame and power were all given to Solomon and those bonuses can appear very attractive. It is what the prosperity gospel uses to attract people. But the meal that satisfies the hunger isn’t within those things. True wealth lies in the wisdom and the finding of the knowledge of God.

Pause and reflect

  • What is your experience of God?
  • How has your knowledge of God enriched your life?
  • What would be the most important advice that you would give to a child so that they might get the best out of life?

The writer describes wisdom: ‘Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her’ (vv17 and 18).

Jesus made claims that echo these thoughts. He stated that he is the way, the truth and the life (see John 14:6), that he is the vine (see John 15:5), that those who take his yoke upon them will find rest for their souls (see Matthew 11:28). When we find Jesus, we meet with the knowledge of God – and acceptance of him is a life-giving event.

Jesus said: ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full’ (John 10:10). Would there be anything better that a parent could do for their child than to encourage them to take that step into life in all its fullness?

Pause and reflect

  • What does ‘life in all its fullness’ mean to you?

To live in shalom is to live at peace, in a state of health where wellbeing reigns within the wholeness of the person in all the dimensions of their life – body, mind and spirit – and in all their relationships with God, themselves and others. It should be no surprise then that shalom and wisdom that give wellbeing have their roots in the same place within the same faith tradition, the knowledge and worship of God.

Pause and pray

  • Dear God, grant that we may be aware of your presence in our lives. May we recognise how this enriches our daily living. Guide our ways and guard our hearts so that we may be an advert for the life in all its fullness that is found in you.

Bible study by

A photo of Eirwen Pallant

Lieut-Colonel (Dr) Eirwen Pallant

Assistant Secretary for Personnel (Development and Health), THQ

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