wisdom from God requires full engagement

…the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

Job 42:7b

Job, a classic story, is part of the Hebrew wisdom literature we find in our Bibles. It is steeped in a kind of deep, profound wisdom different from the more straightforward directives and maxims we find in the book of Proverbs. And the book of Ecclesiastes is more akin to Job, looking reality square in the face while simply trying to make the best of that with the strong word in the end of that book to keep the reader and hearer squared.

What I want simply to say in this post is that wisdom from God to us is not only passive in our reception of it, but it requires our full engagement. We need to be active, even proactive, but working through all the present in accord with the wisdom we’re seeking to discern from God. This requires each one of us to be engaged, but it’s best done in community. We necessarily must grapple with it every day in our lives, but we’ll understand and know what to do on a whole host of things much better through other’s wisdom, as well as from those so committed trying to sort through issues together.

This is one major occupation of my life. I am nearly constantly grappling with this and that. Life doesn’t let up, one thing and another will hit you in your face or will become something to keep in mind. Like Job, God doesn’t want us to be passive, thinking that we simply need to keep our mouths shut, and our ears open to receive what God will give us. There will be times for that, but much of the process of receiving wisdom requires our full intelligent, interactive, heart-felt engagement.

Part of the reality in which we now live, as we seek to discern and receive all of God’s help for us. In and through Jesus.

the power and goodness of prohibitions

Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

The above passage is apt, but there are plenty of other passages from Scripture which help us see that prohibitions are part and parcel of it. There are a good number of them in Leviticus and elsewhere that were for another space and time. But we’ll find plenty enough to keep us occupied.

It has been well pointed out that the faith that is in and from Christ tells us not only what we can’t do, but what we can, as well. It is very much an enabling grace from God.

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 7:12

But let’s not lose sight of the goodness, power, efficacy and importance of prohibitions, being told what not to do. We often do what is not helpful, but indeed unhelpful and unedifying to ourselves and others. And we may not consider much of it wrong at all, but that’s where wisdom from Scripture can help us see differently.

Simply holding ourselves back from doing a whole host of things save us a ton of trouble and heartache. And it doesn’t matter how we feel. Yes, we want to feel like doing the right thing and avoiding the wrong. We want our lives to naturally flow from our hearts. But there is a sense I think in which it works both ways, that is the faith that we have. By responding in faith to the Lord’s word to us, we begin to enter the experience of God’s ever-present grace into the needed change of heart. But when we resist that word, we remain in bondage to ourselves and our vices. Instead, God wants to bring about virtue, not only in our actions, but in our heart.

What is needed is the response of faith. Sometimes we have to act in faith before our actions become a part of who we are. How this all works out is quite a bit of a mystery, God’s working. But change of heart is always accompanied with action. And a good portion of that action is to refuse to do what we would ordinarily do. That refusal becoming more and more a part of who we are over time in our love for our neighbor as for ourselves.

An important, helpful word for me, for us all. In and through Jesus.

be yourself (with all its foibles and flaws)

Go, eat your bread with enjoyment and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has long ago approved what you do. Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

Ecclesiastes is in some ways the most fascinating book to me in the Bible, though others are as interesting in their place, and when considered together. This book reminds me of the great Danish philosopher, Soren Kirkegaard, and the book Kirkegaard: A Single Life, by Stephen Backhouse is a great read. I am sorry to see it so high on Amazon. Get it from a library. It was one of the few life-changing books I’ve read, though every good book should help us in life.

As I recall (thankfully, I have my own copy) the book points out how Kirkegaard sought to live a radical life of following Christ within what he considered an entirely dead Christendom of which he wanted no part. He stood out for that reason, but also because of all of his challenging, compelling writings along with his peculiar manner of life which certainly ran across the grain of the culture of his place and time. Called “the father of existentialism” but at the heart of what he was it seems to me: a follower of Christ. But I’ll certainly have to leave it to many others to help us, though the book mentioned above is said to be the best introduction to him hands down, with a summary of all of his works in the back.

Kirkegaard like all the rest of us made mistakes, his share of them. But life was to be lived, not debated about or philosophized or even theologized. To Kirkegaard, what it means to follow Christ is the point of existence, and the only way that is understood is by endeavoring to live it out, to be authentic in the sense of being oneself, to move forward in reality, in real life.

For me I think along with being in Scripture and prayer, I seek to understand in the midst of living. And there’s no escape from life. There are so many aspects of it. Ecclesiastes is all about that, life under the sun, and all the experiences one passes through here. How on the one hand vanity accompanies everything, I would think especially if it’s considered an end to itself. But on the other hand how we must go on and be fully present in it all, not only present, but a full participant as well. As the book in the end reminds us from the one who was sharing Qoheleth’s (“the Teacher’s”) thoughts, doing it all in the fear of God seeking to obey all of God’s commandments, aware of the judgment to come.

We will make mistakes along the way, no doubt. But God will help us as we realize that we learn from Christ only as we seek to follow Christ in all of life, in everything. And in the midst of a world in which so much is vanity, a chasing after the wind, in which most all of the best endeavors fall short of the goal, and even those which succeed at least in some sense don’t last.

I take heart in this. I have my foibles and flaws (just ask my wife). But I want to go on just as I am, but also with others who are attempting to do the same just as they are. We’re in this together for better and for worse.

And we have wonderful enigmatic books like Ecclesiastes to go back to again and again, along with the rest of Scripture, as we keep trying to make sense of what’s in front of us, and how we’re to carry on. Being each one of us our own unique God-given selves.

In and through Jesus.

let anger come and go

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.

Ephesians 4:26-27

I doubt that I don’t sin or do wrong whenever I’m angry. The initial impulse and reason will likely be good, but my anger takes me into territory which is not helpful. At the same time to have no anger at all doesn’t at all seem right in the face of tragedy at the hands of what’s evil.

We can’t bear the full weight of the evil and its ramifications. What has angered me the most is religious even so-called Christian responses to tragedies which can be heartfelt to be sure, but often misguided. I’m thinking now of the gun violence in the United States, and especially in the murder of school children. And just the devotion to guns that people have. There are other issues too.

And then there are personal matters in which we have to deal with others as well as our own issues, our mistakes, wrongs, whatever the case might be. Frustration, resentment, and anger can too easily come bubbling up to the surface.

But in Ephesians quoting from the psalms, we have most helpful words of wisdom. Let anger come, but also let it go. Don’t hold onto it. It will affect us in every way conceivable, not for the good. In its place there needs to be the resolve to become part of the solution. Always seeking to love our enemies, along with everyone else. But sparingly and at proper times letting anger come, but also letting it go in a relatively short time.

In and through Jesus.

learning to lean

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

There are many things it would be good for us to get over in this life. One of them is our tendency to have an unhealthy self-reliance in which we think it all depends on us. That we have to figure things out, yes- maybe even with God’s help, but that it still depends on us.

Somehow God includes us in this, but it never depends on us, that is if we’re intent in doing it in the way of wisdom as given to us here. We don’t have the weight of anything fully on us. Whatever weight is on us should come from what God gives us, not what we take on ourselves.  But for that to be the case, we’re going to have to become intent on learning to lean. “Lean not on your own understanding” being the probably better-known translation of “do not rely on your own insight.”

This needs to become a part of who we are, what we’re becoming. In and through Jesus.

learn from (and don’t ignore) history

I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did, as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not engage in sexual immorality, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Therefore, my beloved, flee from the worship of idols. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.

1 Corinthians 10:1-15

I’m afraid that all too often our theology or teaching we’ve taken in trumps what Scripture actually says. In the same way I’m afraid that any ideology of the world can make reality take a back seat or get out of the car altogether. But reality doesn’t work that way. Unless we take seriously what Scripture says along with the voices that are raising concerns now, and unless we are willing to look at the past square in the eye, and seek to learn from it, and adjust ourselves accordingly, unless we’re willing to do all of that, then we’ll have to suffer the consequences, and others along with us.

All of Scripture somehow has meaning for us now, although I acknowledge that places in Leviticus seem without application to me. But you have to factor all the details of that book in as well, and see that as part of the whole, which might help us understand the present through considering the past along with the projected future.

Something similar is true for world and national history as well. Why we can’t look at the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly which is inevitable in any such history, and why that’s considered divisive or whatever else negative is a sign that we’re caught up in some ideology. To be devoted to an ideology as if it’s right and true, one example the myth surrounding any nation’s greatness and goodness, is to at least be on the precipice, if not already fallen into idolatry itself. We must be willing to hear the voices that speak out of pain. Of course, they’re not going to be infallible, but neither should we dismiss them as irrelevant with no truth and nothing to say that we can’t learn from. We must listen and listen and listen. Only then might we have something to say which might help, and maybe not. But we need to seek to learn. Only then will others come to respect what we might have to contribute for good.

And we have to accept what Paul tells us above. We need the fear of God in our hearts, but with the realization that such fear is meant to help us into the knowledge and experience of the fathomless and pervasive love of God. In and through Jesus.

the little things (which can either make or break, hinder or help)

Go to the ant, you lazybones;
consider its ways and be wise.
Without having any chief
or officer or ruler,
it prepares its food in summer
and gathers its sustenance in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O lazybones?
When will you rise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want, like an armed warrior.

Proverbs 6:6-11

We can do only one thing at a time, and there’s always plenty to do. Of course, we can’t do everything, and we don’t do well berating ourselves because of that. We need wisdom from God to know what to do and to know what can be left undone. It’s better to do a few things well, than try to do everything.

There are things we really shouldn’t do. I’m not thinking of moral issues, though they’re certainly included, but rather what we know is not helpful for us in the long run but is hard to resist when we really should. Okay, I’ll say it. For me it’s snacking on a little something just before I go to bed. I feel better, do better when I have at least (or around) a twelve-hour gap between my last meal of the day, and first meal of a new day. And nothing to eat close to bedtime.

There’s the obvious from the above passage. We keep at it day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Just humbly plodding along. Doing everything we’re supposed to do. That adds up and accumulates over time exponentially, at least in shaping our character along with the provision God gives us through that.

The little by little of good is so important. No less important is the harm we can cause by a little of what’s wrong. Yes, we will fail along the way, and there’s always the necessary confession of sin, of letting others know we’re sorry. 

It really doesn’t have to be much, and sometimes really is not, but a little bit, and little by little of that can and will go a long way if we keep at it.

 

hold that thought

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6; NRSVue

In pop western culture we want answers, and we want them now. No ambiguity, no having to sort through things; we want the quick fix or the right answer right away. There’s a place for that in some things for temporary or relatively trivial matters. But for the big questions and trying to figure out what to do in the rough and tumble, the tussles, in real life, that’s completely something else.

So much is involved in this. We’re processing through our own thoughts as we seek God’s help. And much of what we’re thinking through has truth in it. But we can’t stop. We have to keep going, to keep asking questions, to look into good Bible commentaries and good study Bibles.

We always need to error on the side of mercy, grace and kindness, trying to cut others slack, remembering our own faults in the past and present, with the willingness, indeed set disposition to forgive. We keep asking questions, we keep praying for ourselves, for others, for the situation at hand.

And we have the promise stated above that God will see us through as we seek to get God’s help, no less. In and through Jesus.

the ongoing challenge of Scripture and life

 

…the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

Job 42:7b; NRSVue

Scripture is so full, and we all know that life is. If there isn’t one thing, there’s another. Always something. 

Job is a great case in point. Avoid one way of looking at the book. Go to Jewish tradition and elsewhere. Even the way it’s translated is not set in stone. Job is just a great example of what is more or less true in all of Scripture. It points us to Christ, but the way it does is noteworthy.

Getting back to Job and the passage quoted above, Job is commended for challenging God. Job’s friends are rebuked, even humiliated (according to the NRSV heading) for stating the conventional doctrinal orthodox understanding of life, faithfully applying it to Job’s situation, indeed tragedy. There was nothing else to be said.

But Scripture and life is not like that. It is so much more open ended, not some closed system which we can set in stone in some kind of systematic theology. We’ll wrestle in life yes, but in Scripture too, and even with God if our faith is active and real.

Scripture is important but is never an end in itself. It mirrors real life and is meant to help us on. The point of Scripture and having to wrestle with it, is to lead us to Christ and to begin to understand all of Scripture in that light, really in a way that we can’t ever fully comprehend and capture. And so, the challenge goes on.  In and through Jesus.

 

not backing down

If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength being small;

Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it?
And will he not repay all according to their deeds?

Proverbs 24:10, 12b; NRSVue

We can’t back down when trouble hits us. Especially if it involves others’ well being. In the words of the proverb above, we must not faint on the day of adversity. We show our strength to be small when we do.

God holds us accountable to hang in there, remain steady, and do all that is necessary to meet the difficulty. God wants us to do good by others. Always in the way of wisdom. For the true good of others, which means holding them responsible as well, but also helping those who cannot help themselves.

We do so, pulling out all the stops as best we know. Figuring out what is best for them, and even how it works best for us in trying to help them. Which might well involve finding a help for them which goes beyond what we can do.

Adversity will strike. What are we prone to do when it does? God wants us to not back down, to be present. Not to take matters in our own hands, but to prayerfully be present, in love being willing to do our part.

In and through Jesus.