I started my Theology course at University in 2007. I was an ‘external’ student, living in different state. In February of the following year the University held a Residential School. I went, very excited, looking forward to meeting others who were also ‘Investigating God’ and ‘Investigating the Bible’ .. which is how I thought of what I was doing. They were a mixed bunch, all ages, all walks of life, all focused on God, including the young evangelist who might have been from Nigeria, who was told ‘not’ to evangelise in class (mind you, he was fun to listen to). The lecturers were fascinating too. So much knowledge, so much understanding. Their reinterpretation of the story of Noah was amazing. I should have had a tape recorder.
At the first lecture our head teacher said –
“The study of Theology will either make or break your faith”.
I have never forgotten those words.
In the years that followed my studies I learned many things, and read many interesting authors, some following the basic tenets of the faith, and some breaking boundaries and stomping on old beliefs. I have met many decent people who only give lip-service to the Book, not reading the parts ‘they don’t like’, but focusing on those that support their chosen beliefs. I’ve had lectures from them, as I’ve mentioned in other blogs on this site. I have loved them all for their differences, for their courage, both in sticking so firmly to their beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and those who dared to be different. I was not taught to be different at University, and no one told me I could be, even in passing … so I often felt conflicted between what the University appeared to want to read, and what I really wanted to say – such as “there is no Trinity”. I put that statement at the bottom of one of my assignments, appropriately, and, in red ink, was told that “if I took something away I had to replace it with something else”. I read that as “don’t change the rules” .. and shut up. You don’t replace a mistake with another mistake.
Another time I was going to write an assignment on the Gospel of John. I went to my good friends, the ex-nun and ex-Jesuit priest, to discuss it, and sat there dumbfounded as the Peter explained the core of the message to me, not section by section, the way we were taught to examine the Bible, but the sum of the whole .. and I knew I would never be as wise as he. So I stopped studying for a while, caught up in my sense of failure – even though I knew he was brilliant, literally, and had been a priest for over 30 years. There’s the folly, I could not match him at all, so I stopped trying.
But something always calls me home …
I cannot stay away from studying the Bible and questioning God. I take breaks. I do other things. I try my best in the ‘real’ world, but the siren song of the Book always calls me. And the Wisdom literature has always been my favourite. According to the Bible, Wisdom is both a woman and a bitch. I think I will examine that for a while …
The character of Wisdom in Proverbs has always been seen as contradictory. Proverbs is described as a literary gathering of diverse wisdom, which requires a “humble, earnest effort to hear what the other says and a willingness to see our world in the other’s terms” (18:13).(1) Occasionally I might stretch your sense of other to almost breaking point, but I have found, through my searching, that some of the confusion is removed from the passages by a broader understanding of the nature of Wisdom when described as a being, rather than a set of rules. I have picked these three chapters because they show, to some degree, the conflict between what we think Wisdom is, and what it might actually be.
Proverbs 1:20-33 Wisdom as a female prophet
20 Wisdom cries out in the streets; in the squares she raises her voice.
21 At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
23 Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused; have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
25 And because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you,
27 when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices.
32 For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.
And then we have another question .. who is Wisdom actually? Why do I ask that question, read the next two chapters.
Proverbs 8:1-36 The Blessings of Wisdom
1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she stakes her stand;
3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
4 “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.
5 O simple ones, learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it.
6 Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right;
7 for my mouth will utter truth, wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
8 All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.
9 They are all straight to him who understands and right to those who find knowledge.
10 Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold;
11 for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.
12 I, wisdom, live with prudence, and I attain knowledge and discretion.
13 The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.
14 I have good advice and sound wisdom; I have insight; I have strength.
15 By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just;
16 by me rulers rule, and nobles, all who govern rightly.
17 I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.
18 Riches and honour are with me, enduring wealth and prosperity.
19 My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver.
20 I walk in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice,
21 endowing with wealth those who love me, and filling their treasuries.
22 The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth –
26 when he had not yet made the earth and fields, or the first bits of soil.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master worker, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
32 “And now, my children, listen to me; happy are those who keep my ways.
33 Hear instructions and be wise, and do not neglect it.
34 Happy is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.
35 For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favour from the Lord,
36 but those who miss me injure themselves; all who hate me love death.”
Proverbs 9:1-18 The Way of Wisdom
1 Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.
2 She has slaughtered her animals; she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table.
3 She has sent out her servant girls, she calls from the highest places in the town,
4 “You that are simple, turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says,
5 “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6 Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
7 Whoever corrects a scoffer wins abuse, whoever rebukes the wicked gets hurt.
8 A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you; the wise, when rebuked, will love you.
9 Give instruction to the wise, and they will become wiser still; teach the righteous and they will gain in learning.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
11 For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life.
12 If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it.
13 The foolish woman is loud; she is ignorant and knows nothing.
14 She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the high places of the town,
15 calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way,
16 “You who are simple, turn in here!”And to those without sense she says,
17 “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
18 But they do not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
There are some key issues I want to discuss here, but you will have to wait until next time …
The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 4th Edition, New Revised, Standard Version, with the Apocrypha. MD Coogan, Editor, Oxford University Press, 2010.
The Interlinear Bible, Hebrew, Greek, English, Green, JP, Sovereign Grace Publishers, Lafayette, Indiana USA. 1985
Commentaries – main:
The New Interpreter’s Bible, A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1997 (1) page 20
And a variety of others as mentioned.