‘-for instruction shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet.’ (Jeremiah 18.18)
This was an old saying in Israel quoted by the prophet Jeremiah. In times when we seem to lack clear direction, it is just as relevant to our own situation. Law, wisdom and prophecy; each were given by God to Israel and we find them all in the old testament. Today, we focus on wisdom. There are three key books in our bibles which talk about wisdom. Job wresting with the problem of pain, Ecclesiastes where the teacher imagines a what the world would be like without God and the book we dip in today, Proverbs, which as its title suggests is full of proverbs or wise sayings. Wisdom or folly. That is the stark choice that we are given in this book.
What is wisdom and where does it come from? The passage we have just heard (Proverbs 8.22-31) has wisdom as a person speaking her mind. Yes…in the bible wisdom is feminine, but then we men have always known that.
She says that the Lord brought her forth as the first of his works. The original language is a bit obscure. Does it mean wisdom was always around, like God himself or was she created right at the beginning. I will leave you to ponder that one. What the rest of this passage tells us is that wisdom was there at creation. She was present when God set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep. She was the craftsman at his side, rejoicing in the presence of God, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind. In other words, wisdom and the natural world we live in are entwined together. God laid down wisdom as the foundation of all that he created. How do we see the evidence of this wisdom in creation?
To answer this, I am happy to turn to one who by his own confession is very hesitant about believing in God but has done more than anyone in living memory to make us all aware of the incredible planet we live on. In his latest TV offering, David Attenborough speaks of the perfect planet. In the trailer to the series, he says: ‘They say perfection does not exist. But that is not quite true. There is one planet where every element has fallen into place perfectly, planet earth. Diverse forces come together to keep our planet in perfect balance.’
For me, it is that perfect balance, recognised by Attenborough, that is evidence of wisdom at the very heart of creation. Folly is to upset that balance. Sir David is the most eloquent of exponents on this too. His previous series, Blue Planet, has begun to turn the tide of humanity’s misuse of the great oceans of the world as dumping grounds for waste, especially plastics which are so harmful to the delicate eco systems of the deep. There are many other examples of our folly trying to destroy the wisdom of the planet from grubbing out rain forests and unsympathetic farming to over dependence on fossil fuels that produce damaging levels of carbon.
But that balance which is the evidence of wisdom in the natural world can extend to our own thinking about ourselves. Wisdom is about finding a balance in the way in which we live. The ancient Chinese recognised this with the Yin and Yang. Many modern wholistic approaches to medicine and therapy do the same. My father had a saying that he would often trot out if I was given to excess. ‘All things in moderation: moderation is enduration’.
Looking at the book of Hosea last week, some of us discovered that God in his response to Israel’s sin in the 8th century BC balanced three approaches as he sought to win back his people into a sound relationship. Sometimes he was cool, allowing them to find the error of their ways, at other times tough with laws and punishments and then tender, appealing to them in love. Wisdom often shows that a balance of these approaches can help us when personal relationships are hard, especially with children.
Wisdom is not the same thing as intelligence. It is not just for brainy people. It cannot be bought and is not easily taught. ‘It leaves its signature on anything that is well made and well judged.’ (Derek Kidner, Proverbs Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries 1964)
Think how much better our world would be with more wisdom, how every action of life would be more in tune with the planet. David Attenborough speaks of the perfect planet, but we can speak of the perfect man. In the old testament, the ultimate benchmark for wisdom was Solomon who is given credit for the book of Proverbs, but when challenged, Jesus said that one greater than Solomon was here. (Matthew 12.42)
The opening words of John’s gospel stand alongside the passage from Proverbs. Jesus is described as the word always existing with God who is God. Through him the world was created. In him is light and life. Now, the word is made flesh. Is this not wisdom personified, given flesh and bones? Does not Jesus show us how to live a wise life? One in which if we seek after him, everything else that we need will come to us.
In relationship with Jesus, we gain the gift of his Spirit which brings us wisdom in abundance. Why look elsewhere to live in balance with ourselves, the planet and God?
To share life with Jesus is to find wisdom and reject folly.
2nd Sunday Before Lent ‘Creation Sunday’ 07.02.2021