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 at all.
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!