Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The wisdom of the world?

Each tuesday morning, before work I get together with a group of the other Christian men who also work at the University. We usually read a chapter of the Bible, talk about it, and then pray together. This morning we read the first chapter of the book of Proverbs.
A few things I got out of the discussion follow.

Proverbs was arguably written in the context of surrounding nations who had their own "wisdom" literature consisting of sayings based on "common sense". Proverbs is deliberately written in contrast to that, to show that YHWH is the centre of all of life, and particularly, wise living. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom."

Much of Proverbs consists not of theology but sayings based on observations of everyday life. Much of this is "common sense" in the sense that a careful and objective and motivated observer can learn things such as:
laziness leads to poverty, adultery ends in disaster, children need discipline, saving money is good, arguing destroys relationships,...

Hence, these truths "shout out".

"Wisdom", 1560, by Vecellio Tiziano (Titian)

However, most of us don't learn these things because we don't want to. Our self interested wishful thinking is always hoping there will be a "free lunch" and that we can get away with doing the wrong thing, or that disobedience to God's laws won't have undesirable consequences.

On the other hand, we need to be wary of what is claimed to be "common sense", "conventional wisdom" and "bleedingly obvious". Jesus teaching clearly does not meet these criteria. "The first will be last and the last will be first." Science also teaches us that many counter-intuitive things (e.g., quantum physics) defy our notions of what is "common sense".

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