One of the more difficult things I find as a parent is learning when to step back. Often my kids run into a problem or situation where they need help. And as their dad, my first response is to fix it. I do not want my kids to get bogged down or stuck. I want them, instead, to move on to the next thing. But when I step in, my kid's do not always grow. There is a value in being stuck and learning how to figure out what to do next. The best thing I can do as a parent is to know when to step back and let my kids figure things out. And the book of Proverbs was written with this idea in mind.
Proverbs is a book of poetry and these poems are filled with parallelisms. Parallelism is when the second line of a verse restates, in some way, the first. This restatement can sound exactly the same or it can be very different. Proverbs prefers to use these two lines to contrast each other. This is how the book of Proverbs helps us to see "what is good and approved and what is not*." We are invited to puzzle over the meanings - to get stuck in each verse. Because this book wants to show us how, when we are overwhelmed by different voices and opinions, we "can choose the wiser course**."
But what, exactly, is wise? That's a question currently up to debate. We can all name people who we know who think they are always right. And we might think that our opinions and decision making abilities are always top notch. We can find ourselves supporting any opinion that affirms what we already think is right. And we surround ourselves with voices that keep us comfortable while shutting down the people who do not agree with us. We have no problem labeling something "Fake News" if what we're reading doesn't support what we believe. We struggle to know what to trust because even videos can make people say what they didn't really mean. It can feel as if wisdom is in short supply. But we might not agree where such wisdom can be found
The Book of Proverbs (today's reading Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31), then, offers a chance to see what God considers wise. Yet this wisdom, I think, is less about what each individual verse says and more about who the book of Proverbs describes. Throughout this book, we meet the character of Wisdom. Wisdom is typically personified as a she and she is imagined as being present when the universe was made. Wisdom is a master craftswoman, who joyfully celebrates God's holy work. She is God's Spirit in the world, the voice of what is always true. She is the One who advocates for justice and love. And she has seen it all while still delighting in the diversity of our world. She is, for Christians, the Holy Spirit. She is the energy that opens us to learning what it means to fear God, to cling to Jesus, and to experience the gift of faith. When other voices want to turn us towards what is comfortable, she is already speaking to us and showing us a more holy way. When we are stuck, she is Jesus' presence as we struggle to find our way. She is God's energy in the world. And she, as the Holy Spirit, is how God's love helps us find a way through.
* The Fortress Press Commentary on the Old Testament, 2014.
** Anne Stewart, Commentary on Working Preacher, 2019.
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