Biblical Wisdom – on Power

summarizing my sermon from 23 September

Oftentimes we’re tempted to think of wisdom & morality as human things.  It’s often thought of in terms of that native American story about the old man describing the two wolves battling within him – one good, the other evil.  The wolf who wins is the one you feed.

However, what we really need is to become sinless like Christ.  In other words, we can’t just starve the bad wolf, because we’re always throwing it scraps – we’re always sneaking selfish motives into our decisions in everyday life.  What we really need is for Jesus to come in a shoot the darn thing.

Thinking that we are able to become “good enough” for heaven on our own is attempting to steal God’s power.  If we think we can earn God’s favor by good works, we presume to have the power to defeat the evil within us – power that only Christ has.  This is why “good people” who don’t believe in Jesus are not assured of salvation; for all the good moral things they may well have accomplished in life, they still are committing the greater evil of presuming to think that they can make themselves justified before God without God’s help.  It all comes down to power; they’re trying to steal God’s power, just like Adam & Eve in the Garden at the dawn of human history.

Romans 1:19-20 takes this a step further, saying that there is no excuse for people not recognizing their need for God: “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”  These verses often end up in the center of a great deal of debate and misunderstanding over in what way “everyone knows God.”  So rather than get embroiled in a big debate about one passage of scripture in isolation, I’d like to walk with you through a short discourse in Proverbs that touches upon the same subject – namely, the issue of everyone having access to the knowledge of God.

Proverbs 1:20-33 is a discourse about the importance of godly Wisdom.  Its structure is a chiasm, meaning it starts and ends on parallel points, and as your work your way toward the center of the passage, you can trace parallel thoughts until you reach the central point in the middle.  Here’s how one might outline this speech:

A) appeal for attention (20-21)
B) the untutored/scoffers/fools (22)
C) declaration of disclosure (23)
D) reason for the announcement (24-25)
E) announcement of judgment (26-28)
D’) reason for the announcement (29-30)
C’) declaration of retribution (31)
B’) the untutored/scoffers/fools (32)
A’) appeal for attention (33)

The essence of this message  is that God’s Wisdom is readily available to all who care to listen.  But that doesn’t preclude the reality that people need to be called to Wisdom (20-21, 23, 33).  Furthermore, ignoring Wisdom spells bad news (22, 24-25, 29-31). In fact, the judgement upon those who reject Wisdom is the heart of this discourse’s material (26-28)!  There’s even a chiasm within the chiasm: verses 26 & 28 show Wisdom laughing, verse 27 gives a three-fold warning of disaster.  This is not to say that God delights in judging the ungodly; rather, it’s highlighting the irony that these people think they’re being wise (by worldly standards) but in fact are being foolish.

The fact that Wisdom is personified here is also important to note.  It shows that Wisdom is not an abstract concept, but personal.  And the fact that she’s a woman is not to say that she’s a pagan goddess, but a theology – a part of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  In other parts of Proverbs, this personification goes even further describing not just a person but a personality.  This led to some Early Christian debate: which person of the Trinity is Lady Wisdom – the Holy Spirit or Jesus? Jesus eventually won the day, as we still recognize in verse 2 of a popular Advent hymn “O Come, Thou Wisdom from on high…

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About Fr. Brench

I'm a Priest in the Anglican Diocese in New England interested in spiritual formation, theology, and the growth of God's Kingdom.
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