THE BOOK OF PROVERBS
A CHAPTER A DAY
This chapter sets out such a beautiful image of human life that I wish it were true. Unfortunately it is not. Good things happen to bad people, and bad things to good people. There are indeed rewards for wisdom and goodness, sometimes. Sometimes also there are no rewards, but in fact misfortunes. The same common sense that helps a person love a decent life sees that the promised blessings are frequently absent. At present many good people are dying of Covid 19, while many corrupt rascals live on.
So how can this teaching be rescued from its obvious refutation by life?
1. We can say that God’s blessing on wise and decent people is real but not material.
2. We can say that although God’s blessing does not free good people from catastrophe it does give communities strength and resilience. (This does not take account of Auschwitz)
3. We can say, like Job’s comforters,. that those who suffer are secret sinners.
4. We can say, like Jesus, that there are rewards for goodness in this world, but that many of them are in the world to come.
5. We can say that this pretended wisdom is mince.
Sometimes I incline to 5, but more often to 4, which basically says that although we may sometimes be unable to see God’s blessing, we should behave as if it is real and we will ultimately find that it is. Jesus for example told his disciples that even in this life they would be blessed by being part of a community of brothers and sisters, while in the world to come they would have eternal life.
The Book of Job in the Bible, however, is a clear refutation of the morality set out in this chapter. And yet, it is beautiful because even in an unfair world, wisdom is better than stupidity, as citizens of the USA are discovering. The aggressive stupidity of their president stands in sharp contrast to the ways of wisdom: her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace – a lovely phrase which well describes some of the lovely people I have known. Maybe we can be content to observe that the greater the number of those who act upon it, the truer it becomes.
It is also described as the wisdom by which God creates the universe. The book of Job accepts this, but adds that God’s creativity is beyond human understanding, so we should not get above ourselves. I appreciate the humility this requires but in my sinful stubbornness I am reluctant to accept that I shouldn’t at least try to understand what God is doing. How can I call it wise, unless I understand it to some degree?
I have of late been impressed by the kind of thinking which is based on the work of Alfred North Whitehead, which sees God as committed to the processes of the universe, as a persuasive partner rather than an omnipotent monarch. He states that greatest discovery in philosophy is that of Plato and Jesus, that goodness works by persuasion rather than force. As such, God cannot go for immediate results but must engage with and suffer with the processes of the universe as they are guided towards perfection. This seems to me to assist an understanding of the wisdom described in the Book of Proverbs.