THE WORDS OF WISDOM
– The book of Proverbs –
The Book of Proverbs is a collection of words of wisdom that are universally appreciated voice of reason. They are commonsensical and practical words of ‘Sophia’ – ‘wisdom’ in Greek. “If you work hard, you become rich. If you are lazy, you will be poor,” Says Proverbs 10:4 “If you are wise, you keep your mouth shut.” (10:19) How sensible! They sound almost corny. Proverbs (8:22 – 31) says the Wisdom was with God when God created the world. It sounds like the Gospel John (1:1-5) that says, “Christ (the Word) was with God from the beginning at the time of creation” is an imitation of the Book of Proverbs.
I suspect that, when the Bible was officially made the Holy Book of the church in the Fourth Century, the early fathers of the Church did not recognize ‘Wisdom’ as the fourth person of God, because “Sophia,” is female. The Book of Proverb always refers Wisdom as “she”. This is how the Christian Church ended up with the doctrine of “Trinity” – God in three male persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It could have been God in four persons, “Father, Son, Spirit, and Wisdom”, if those who met at the Nicene Council were not all men. It was at that council Trinity was made a doctrine of the church.
They say that today is an age of information. But information, like a telephone book, is useless unless we can use it. Otherwise it is just a door-stop. Information is useful only when it is knowledge. However knowledge can be abused and misused without wisdom. Knowledge in the hands of evil is a catastrophe. Wisdom is essential for knowledge to be a useful tool. It is possible that an uneducated illiterate but wise person can save the world. Wisdom is supremely important just as essential as “LOVE’ which Christ represents.
The Book of Proverbs is a collection of many traditional wisdom sayings by unknown sages. Many of them are credited to King Solomon, because the legend has it that he was the wisest king in history of Jewish people. But it does not mean he wrote them all. He might have done some of them but only some. Most of them are from unknown traditional sources. Unlike today’s demand for copyrights and strict prohibition of plagiarism, in ancient days people often attached the names of the persons they admired to their writings to honour them in stead of signing their own names. So Solomon ended up being credited for many sayings he didn’t say nor write.
Uniqueness of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament as Proverbs is lack of emphasis on the special relationship of Jewish people with God; “covenant” as it was referred to in the Bible. Other Wisdom literature are Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Job. They could be acceptable to all people of different beliefs. The advise like “Arrogant people do not like to be corrected, But you will die if you don’t let yourself corrected.” is universal. In this sense, the Proverbs is a collection of advises for all humanity regardless of belief.
However, the Book of Proverbs does say that it is important to “fear God” as a pre-condition to benefit from the words of Wisdom. (1:7 and 2:5) Still “which god?” is a question it does not ask. I think the word ‘fear’ simply means ‘respect’ in strong terms. It means that the origin of all wisdom is God. If God is the source of wisdom, there is no limit to the depth, scope, and strength of wisdom. It is so vast that it is unknowable and is beyond the reach of any human comprehension.. There is no end to a search for the ultimate wisdom. That is what it means to say “Fear God.” Be humble and never stop searching for wisdom for you will never know it completely. The search for wisdom is on-going and never-ending. Anyone arrogant enough to stop the pursuit of wisdom because he thinks he knows everything will never know anything. A search for wisdom is a very long journey. In other words, we must be smart enough to know that we are basically stupid
In ancient Greece, the father of philosophy Socrates, said, “Know yourself.” And the ultimate knowledge of yourself is the realization of your ignorance. The point is that even though the Proverbs, and other wisdom literatures, do not mention God as often as other books in the Bible do, it emphasises the importance of being humble. You must realize that the result of your search of knowledge is tiny. We can never fathom the notion that a planet can exist billions of light-years away, for example. It boggles our minds. Search for wisdom never ends.
Ironically, to say that the source of wisdom is God also means that there is a limit to common sense. Reality often does not make sense and can be cruel. “Why innocent people fall victim of the action of evil people?” Consider the string of tragic events of the last few weeks illustrate this. (April, 2013) Why an innocent teenage girl was gang raped and became a target of internet-bullies, and driven to suicide? A peaceful annual event of Marathon was a target of terrorists’ bombing by a couple of twisted minded young men? Why hard working people in a garment factory had to die painfully because of greedy factory owners tried to save money by building a cheaply constructed building? The Book of Proverbs does not raise such questions. It’s the question raised by another wisdom literature: the Book of Job.
The voice of reason and the wise advise as given to us in the Book of Proverbs make sense most of the time in our daily life. But the reality is not always reasonable and follow the logic. The world is full of contradiction. The Book of Proverbs does not deal with those contradictions. The Book of Job raises the question of unreasonable suffering of innocent people. Job cries out, “What is the matter with you, God! I didn’t do anything wrong, and yet I suffer so much. Why?” “God, are you there? Do you even care?” There are two suggestions made in the Old Testament to answer those questions: the Ecclesiastes concludes, “there is no sense in the world. Everything is useless! Prophet Isaiah suggests that it is the mission of the just people to suffer. The Bible suggests resolutions, but in separate books.
The Bible does not make sense, if you don’t read it as a whole. It is a record of the Hebrew people’s progress in their thinking while they search for truth. You have to try to understand it in the context of different solutions suggested by different books.