Friday, August 12, 2016

Wisdom that sees beyond death

Another thought from Proverbs.  This is a book which often seems to draw an unrealistically direct line from godliness to happiness, from wisdom to prosperity.  One of the most beautiful, but also one of the most outrageous, of the statements that I've been pondering recently is in 4:18:
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
 It's a beautiful image - the road of wisdom leads from brightness to brightness, life to life.  And the contrast with the road of folly and wickedness in the following verse is very striking.  Whilst the wicked stumble around in darkness that is so deep that they don't know what they're tripping over, the righteous advance smoothly from one glory to another.

But is that even remotely true?

Arguably, in the wider canon Ecclesiastes and Job raise questions about the link between wisdom and prosperity that is expressed in Proverbs.  But actually, even within Proverbs itself there is often the assumption that it would be worth giving up all of that prosperity in order to gain wisdom - and the wicked are almost habitually equated with the wealthy.  So obviously even here the link is not that clear cut.  But what do we do with the places where the link is made?

I think this is another reason why we can't see Proverbs, or the wisdom tradition in Israel generally, as just expressing 'common sense', or being based on some notion of 'general revelation'.  In fact, without the context of the covenant with Israel, and ultimately without the context of the resurrection of Christ and the promised resurrection of believers, these statements in Proverbs are not just questionable, but are actually cruel lies.  Only if there is resurrection is it true that wisdom leads to light, and therefore only in this context would it make sense to give up prosperity to gain wisdom.

Genuine wisdom has to look beyond death.  But that is somewhere human reason can never go - which is why the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord, and why we must not trust our own understanding.

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