“Right discernment of life begins with an obedience discernment of YHWH the Creator” (Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 309). 1
This quote by Bruggeman truly calls attention to just how we understand knowledge, and become aware of God’s immanence and transcendence. For many years, I had difficulty with the wisdom tradition’s notion of knowledge stemming from a “fear of the Lord” . Perhaps, it was simply in my understanding of the word fear, which does not aptly describe my understanding of our relationship with God. Even still, was it’s usage in the numerous fire and brimstone homilies I had grown up with. Yet, when we place this word fully in the context of scripture, there is ample clarity.
In contrast to understanding God cosmically and historically at work within the world, Israel sought to understand God as Creator within the context of everyday life. Through the Wisdom literature we are attuned to a plurality of voices that speak to who God is and experienced in the daily lived reality of the community in which God is believed to be central to its ordering. 2 Here, we behold a deep concern with the very human and routine problems of life, death, sex, commerce, and relationships encountered in living in the world. Moreover, there is considerable moral weight placed on decision making, with the responsibility seen in the highlighted and inherent consequences. In honoring this divine order, one’s life and that of the community, it is asserted, would be blessed the gift of well being. 3
Conversely, the consequences that are intrinsic to deeds that are negligent of Yahweh’s structuring of creation invite misery, suffering, and even death for the community.4 Skillfully, it is fashioned by reflective and inquisitive teachers employing literary designs of poetry, metaphor, drama to describe a “faith in the world as intended by the Creator”.5 Knowledge, as argued by the teachers of Proverbs, begins therefore in fearing the Lord with awe and wonder. (Prov. 1:7) Thus, what we witness is an expression of faith seeking to recognize God’s intended purpose and boundaries inherent in creation that is believed to provide meaning and safety for the whole world. 6
Here “fear” reveals more of an overwhelming marveling at considering the magnificence of God, what he has done, and continues to do within creation. This we are invited to do each time we behold a sunrise, or connect with the eyes of the believer receiving communion, or hold the tiny hands of a newborn baby in ours. In our appreciation of God as the source of all life, and desire to know his will and purpose for our lives, we begin to seek to know more and grow in our love and service to him. What is knowledge then, if not our acknowledgement of the Creator who offers this gift and desires to be in relationship with his creation?
When I was a child, I would customarily ask my grandmother her advice on various questions of life. While she did have concrete suggestions for me to follow, it always came down to her embodied philosophy..put God first and everything else will fall into place. Or, better still, it will be shown to be inconsequential in the bigger picture. This seems so simple, and nonetheless we strive to make our lives so complicated. Yet, as the wisdom teachers assert, we will never be able to even discern the right path unless we take the “Creator’s large vision to bear on these everyday realities”. 7
In order that we understand this perspective fully, we are given God’s magnanimous answer to Job which attests to his “greatness and which transcends the small moral category of Proverbs”.8 What’s more, God demands a reply from Job as well, not to his innocence or guilt, but in questioning if Job recognizes that it is God alone who holds the entirety of creation in his hands.9 In Job, we are reminded of Jacob, who also “wrestled” with God..but won. Job, however cannot respond to God equally, and realizes finally that he needs to accept God’s mystery of purpose. (Job 42:1-6) In yielding his “complaint and protest” to renewed “hope and trust” God moves forward to restoration of Job’s life and indeed his relationship with God.
Interestingly too, God addresses the three friends who had “not spoken rightly concerning” God. (Job 42:7-9) In penance, they were to offer holocaust, and seek the intercession of Job whose guilt they had so easily assumed. Thus, there was restoration for the three friends as well, and vindication of Job’s righteousness. This highlights the significance of sound pastoral ministry whenever we speak or offer comfort. Prayerful reflection must be given to what we do choose to say. Likewise, we must be open to recognizing that we are far from infallible, and when mistakes are made, we should seek reparation as well.
Many of us cannot help but smile whenever we encounter the bumper sticker that reads, “What would Jesus do?” particularly when its driver is behaving less than Christian . While, this might provide a somewhat humorous example, it does call attention to just how we live our lives of faith daily. While Proverbs attempts to catch us before we err and in the decision making process itself, experience is far too often the teacher. These are the issues that the writers of Proverbs and Job understood..seeking God in both presence and seeming absence in our lived reality. Both illustrate our need to let God’s wisdom speak in silence sometimes..and let God’s Spirit move in and renew the hearts.
- Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 309.
- Brueggemann, p. 275.
- Brueggemann, p. 310.
- Brueggemann, p. 312.
- Birch,Bruce, A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 384.
- Birch, p. 422.
- Birch, p. 388.
- Birch, p. 412.
- Brueggemann, p. 298.