Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wisdom of Solomon and Insecurity about Life

I’ve been reading the Deuterocanonical Writings for my daily quiet time.  The Deuterocanonical Writings are part of the Catholic canon for the Bible, but not the Protestant and Jewish canons.  Protestants call the Deuterocanonical Writings the “Apocrypha.”

I am enjoying the Deuterocanonical Writings this time around more than I did the last time that I read it.  One reason, I think, is that I have been paying closer attention to the text this time around.  Another reason is that I appreciate how some of the Deuterocanonical Writings reason things out.  In the Book of Judith, Judith offers reasons why the Israelites should trust God—-why that is the best practical solution.  In Wisdom of Solomon, the writer offers arguments for why idolatry is senseless, whereas the worship of God is right.  Are their arguments perfect?  They can probably be nit-picked.  But they seek to explain and to offer reasons why something is the case.  My guess is that this is because many of the Deuterocanonical Writings were written in Hellenistic times, and you know how Greeks loved philosophy!

I came across a puzzling statement in Wisdom of Solomon recently.  Wisdom of Solomon is trying to explain why there are righteous people who die young.  The writer offers a reason in vv 11-14 (and I am quoting from the New Revised Standard Version):

“They were caught up so that evil might not change their understanding or guile deceive their souls.  For the fascination of wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.  Being perfected in a short time, they fulfilled long years;  for their souls were pleasing to the Lord, therefore he took them quickly from the midst of wickedness.”

This took me aback, a bit.  God takes the righteous young so that they do not give in to the pressures of wickedness?  That reminded me of a deconversion story that I read a while back—-someone’s account of why she left fundamentalist Christianity and became an atheist.  She grew up in the Church of Christ, which believes that Christians can lose their salvation.  After she accepted Christ as a child, she prayed that God might take her life so that she would go to heaven.  If she stayed alive, she reasoned, she might be tempted to leave the faith or to live a sinful lifestyle, and she would then go to hell after she died.

I have problems with the insecurity in this mindset.  Granted, I acknowledge that human beings can fluctuate in their beliefs and their behaviors, and those who think that one has to believe and do the right things to go to heaven and avoid hell may find that frightening.  There are Christians who believe that God will safeguard the Christian faith of the elect, such that true Christians persevere in the faith rather than abandoning it.  The problem is: What if a person doesn’t know whether he or she is part of the elect?

I try to appreciate, though, the context in which Wisdom of Solomon was making its argument.  Good people were dying young, and that was puzzling Jews whose traditional idea was that God would bless the righteous with longevity.  Moreover, there were pressures on Jews to compromise who they were: to embrace paganism and to try to be less odd in the eyes of others, especially those who persecuted them.

I believe, overall, that God wants us to plow through life.  Will things come along that will tempt us to do wrong?  Yes.  The question then is how one should go about meeting those challenges.

Do I think that God may take righteous people when they are young to spare them from temptation?  Oh, maybe he does.  I don’t know.  I still have problems, though, with the insecurity about life that such an attitude conveys.

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