Bible blog 2290

THE BOOK OF PROVERBS

A CHAPTER A DAY

CHAPTER 3

LEAF BY PAUL KLEE

My child, remember
my teachings and instructions
    and obey them completely.
They will help you live
    a long and prosperous life.
Let love and loyalty
always show like a necklace,
    and write them in your mind.
God and people will like you
    and consider you a success.

With all your heart
you must trust the Lord
    and not your own judgment.
Always let him lead you,
    and he will clear the road
    for you to follow.
Don’t ever think that you
    are wise enough,
    but respect the Lord
    and stay away from evil.
This will make you healthy,
    and you will feel strong.
Honor the Lord by giving him
your money
    and the first part
    of all your crops.
Then you will have
more grain and grapes
    than you will ever need.

My child, don’t turn away
or become bitter
    when the Lord corrects you.
The Lord corrects
    everyone he loves,
    just as parents correct
    their favorite child.

God blesses everyone
who has wisdom
    and common sense.
Wisdom is worth more
    than silver;
    it makes you much richer
    than gold.
Wisdom is more valuable
    than precious jewels;
    nothing you want
    compares with her.

In her right hand
    Wisdom holds a long life,
    and in her left hand
    are wealth and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness
    and all her paths are peace.
Wisdom is a life-giving tree,
    the source of happiness
    for all who hold on to her.

By his wisdom and knowledge
    the Lord created
    heaven and earth.
By his understanding
he let the ocean break loose
    and clouds release the rain.
My child, use common sense
and sound judgment!
    Always keep them in mind.
They will help you to live
    a long and beautiful life.
You will walk safely
    and never stumble;
you will rest without a worry
    and sleep soundly.
So don’t be afraid
    of sudden disasters
    or storms that strike
    those who are evil.
You can be sure
    that the Lord
    will protect you from harm.

Do all you can for everyone
    who deserves your help.
Don’t tell your neighbor
to come back tomorrow,
    if you can help today.
Don’t devise plots
    against neighbours who trust you.
Don’t argue just to be arguing,
    when you haven’t been hurt.
Don’t be jealous of cruel people
    or follow their example.

The Lord doesn’t like
    anyone who is dishonest,
    but he lets good people
    be his friends.
He places a curse on the home
    of everyone who is evil,
    but he blesses the home
    of every good person.
The Lord mocks those
    who mock him,
    but he is kind to everyone
    who is humble.

You will be praised
    if you are wise,
    but you will be disgraced
    if you are a stubborn fool.

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.

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