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“A 14-year-old girl is pregnant. What should she, what should one, consider and do?”

This question was posed by a premier wisdom researcher a couple thousand years after Mary and Joseph may have faced a similar quandary. We don’t actually know Mary’s age when she became pregnant with Jesus because the Gospel accounts don’t tell us, but many scholars suggest she was a teenager, and perhaps in the first half of her teenage years.

If this question seems hard to answer now, it was difficult then, too. Artists may put a halo over the baby Jesus to represent his divinity, but he also was birthed into the gritty human reality of a confusing and conflictual world brimming with hard questions. To be fully human is to live amidst the difficulties of embodied life, where wisdom is required of us every day.

Wisdom for the Christian Life

Several years ago, one of my doctoral students with prior theological training announced that he wanted to do his dissertation on wisdom. I replied, “Paul, that’s a great idea, but psychologists don’t really study wisdom.” He went to the library and proved me wrong. It turns out there is a vibrant science of wisdom. In the last part of the 20th century, much of it occurred at the University of Berlin, where researcher Paul Baltes and his colleagues developed a way to measure wisdom by asking people to respond to challenging questions, such as the one about a 14-year-old pregnant girl. That research continues today at places like the Center for Practical Wisdom at the University of Chicago.

My student, ...

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