I attended the United Methodist church this morning. The pastor’s sermon was about wisdom, and she talked about wisdom literature. Our Scripture reading was from the deuterocanonical Book of Sirach.
The pastor said that wisdom literature was trying to address the
question of what life is all about, and its answer was wisdom. Wisdom
includes intelligence and knowledge, but it is broader than that, and it
is difficult to put what wisdom is into words, though many of us may
feel that we know it when we see it. Wisdom literature often associates
wisdom with God’s creation, so, if we walk by the ocean, we should
think about how that ocean reflects wisdom. The fear of God, according
to Proverbs, is the beginning of wisdom. This means that we can look at
the universe and feel as if it is indifferent and we are so small, and
yet we are connected with God.
How all of this fits together, I do not entirely know, but that is why I have this blog: to try to figure things out.
I have said before on this blog that wisdom literature was the How to Win Friends and Influence People
of antiquity. In a sense, that is true. Wisdom literature does have a
lot about how people can be successful. Yet, from what my pastor was
saying this morning, and also, on some level, from my own observations,
there is more to wisdom literature than that. It concerns what life is
about, and something tells me that life is about more than success and
manipulating the world such that it goes my way. And wisdom, somehow,
is a part of the cosmos. Last week, the pastor said that wisdom
literature contains a concept, or hints at a concept, of communion with
God. I was wondering how that was the case. I do not see a whole lot
of mysticism when I read wisdom literature, and yet, there does seem to
be a concept there of communion with wisdom, of having a relationship
with wisdom, of wisdom being one’s companion. That could just be
metaphorical, or maybe wisdom was understood as a manifestation of God.
Both can probably be reconciled, in some manner, with a relational God.
How is wisdom a part of the universe? Obviously, there is order in
the universe, and there is also beauty. There are also bad and harmful
things in the universe. One can understandably look at the universe and
ask, “God, what were you thinking?”, or doubt that there is even a God
I would not rule out the idea that wisdom literature being about
success is important. We want harmony in our lives. We want
happiness. Life is about more than that, of course. Ben Sira talks a
lot about giving alms to the poor, so that should be factored into what
wisdom is about. There is also the question of what God wants us to
be. I do not recall a whole lot in wisdom literature about imitating
God, or being transformed into God’s image, but it does have a concept
of God giving us standards, and us trying to fulfill them. There is a
passage in Sirach about how we should forgive others, if we are to ask
God to forgive us. Wisdom literature, as far as I can see, does not
really have anything about the eternal destiny for believers or
righteous people. There are Christians who like to say that the purpose
of this life is to prepare us for the next, whatever that entails.
Wisdom literature often has a this-worldly focus. Perhaps editorial
additions to Ecclesiastes are an exception, though they are not overly
specific about the afterlife; certainly, Wisdom of Solomon is an
exception, for it has the immortality of the soul.
I am kind of writing myself into a pit right now. I applied to
review academic books, and I hope that, when the people there check out
my blog to see if I should be approved or not, they are not too turned
off by this post’s choppiness or meandering, elliptical nature. I am
not even sure if I have arrived at any destination in this post! But it
was good for me to think about my pastor’s sermon.
I’ll leave the comments open, in case anyone wants to add any insight or information. No put-downs, though!