I’ve been reading the book of Proverbs on and off recently.
Much of it, let’s face it, is pretty trivially obvious. Let’s take 12:17, for instance: “The faithful witness tells what is right, but a false witness speaks deceit.” Well, yes, by definition. (Mind you, Tony once told me that if someone uses “by definition” to seal an argument, you know they’re lying.) But I’ve found two things intriguing as I’ve read through Proverbs.
First, there is the insistence that wisdom is necessary. I remember reading recently (I don’t remember where) that our information society has placed a high premium on knowledge and ability, but a low premium on wisdom. When we talk about successful people, brilliant people, we talk about their intelligence or their achievements, but we don’t often talk about their character - in fact, character flaws are excusable if we know enough or do enough; Churchill is remembered as a great world leader, not an unrepentant racist.
But the writer of the Proverbs hammers it down, verse after verse, that wisdom is what the human condition is all about: living well means living wisely.
The second, and the hopeful thing for me, is the equally strong insistence that wisdom is available. This isn’t some esoteric thing that you spend years in meditation searching for. We don’t look for wisdom; according to the Bible, wisdom looks for us, shouting in the streets to anyone who will listen (Proverbs 1:20-23; Proverbs 8) - this is not a hidden wisdom but a wisdom which is publically available, open to all.
The fear of the Lord. Listening to others. Pursuing justice. These are not difficult things to understand, although they may be difficult to practice. But that’s all that it’s about, to live wisely and to live well.