Whose Wisdom Is Really The Principal Thing? (@layanglicana)


“Fortune” by Jonathunder – Own work. Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fortune.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Fortune.jpg

Sometimes I wonder if the Book of Proverbs is God’s little tease.

Rather like the works of William Shakespeare, you will find a wealth of wisdom therein, advice on every subject under the sun. If you are perplexed about something (and cannot answer the question ‘What would Jesus do?’), you are very likely to find an answer in the Book of Proverbs.

‘Great!’, I hear you say, ‘So what’s the problem with that?’

Well, my best-beloveds, there is no problem at all, particularly if you are content to dip into this bran tub of wisdom and latch on to the first words of wisdom which appear to speak to your predicament. Take wisdom itself as an example:

 Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom; and with all thy getting, get understanding. (Proverbs 4.7)

The tease lies in the fact that you are quite likely to find the opposite advice in another verse:

Proverbs was almost excluded from the Bible because of its contradictions – the reader is told, for example, both to “not answer a dolt according to his folly”, according to 26:4, and to “answer the dolt by his folly”, as 26:5 advises. More pervasively, the recurring theme of the initial unit (chapters 1–9) is that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but the following units are much less theological, presenting wisdom as a transmissible human craft, until with 30:1–14… we return once more to the idea that God alone possesses wisdom.

And this is without looking at Job or Ecclesiastes, which are highly likely to contradict the advice on wisdom in Proverbs. Let alone St Paul, particularly his letters to the Corinthians, which advocate holy foolishness for Christ.

The world has a great hunger for simple answers to complex questions (astrology, palmistry, numerology, even the I Ching and  Old Moore’s Almanack), and this has been exacerbated by the speed of communication in our century: now answers must not just be simple, they must be immediate.

So what do you think, is God teasing and challenging us in the Book of Proverbs, offering us fortune cookie answers to questions of great profundity about the meaning of the universe?

About Laura Sykes