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Listen to God’s Wisdom
Summer Quarter: Many Faces of Wisdom
Unit 1: Wisdom in Proverbs
Sunday school lesson for the week of June 7, 2020
By Rev. Ashley Randall
Lesson Scripture: Proverbs 1
Key Verse: Proverbs 1:7
To acknowledge that God is the true source of wisdom
Hearing through the Noise
So much noise. So much confusion. Are you wondering how to sift through it all?
Ken Carter, Bishop of the Florida Conference, recently invited those under his care to join him in reading through the four gospels over the summer. After he explained the project, “Summer in the Scriptures,” during a Facebook Live session, he asked folks to imagine reaching the end of the summer “more shaped by the Word and less shaped by the noise.”
That is what God offers you – to hear God’s still, small voice through the noise; to find clarity in the midst of the confusion; to be shaped by the Word.
Early in his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul offers this prayer:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation that makes God known to you. I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. This power is conferred by the energy of God’s powerful strength
Paul prays that those who call on the name of Christ will receive “a spirit of wisdom,” and that that wisdom will empower them to see “the hope of God’s call,… the richness of God’s glorious inheritance,…and…the overwhelming greatness of God’s power.”
Throughout the Bible, God invites those who will to receive the gift of wisdom. It is that invitation that I hope you will consider this summer as we take the time to reflect on the many faces of wisdom. My prayer is that it will deepen your hope, enrich your spirit, and give you power to face the challenges of these days with confidence, courage, and peace.
Ball of Confusion
Let’s start by clearing up some confusion that may prevent us from discovering all that God wants to reveal to us about wisdom.
There are a lot of words we use rather carelessly when we discuss the character of God and the nature of those who commit their lives to following God’s path. We often assume everyone knows what we mean when we use words like love, grace, peace, mercy, and wisdom. Much of this carelessness is the product of a lack of attention to detail. It is not so much the result of any malevolent intent, more the kind of intellectual and theological sloppiness that comes from familiarity.
Everyone knows that love is central to the both the character of God and the purpose and mission of our lives, but we struggle to agree both on how God manifests that love and on how we participate in expressing the love of God to others. It is fairly common to talk about the “peace of God,” but we rarely take the time to explore the nature of “Shalom.” From time to time we hear calls to work for justice, but we rarely move pass generalities.
Since “wisdom” is going to be the focus of our study for the next 13 weeks, it seems worth the effort to consider with some care what we are going to be studying. Some people imagine that “wisdom” is a natural consequence of surviving a range of diverse experiences. Usually, people who hold this belief assume that those experiences take years to accumulate. Perhaps you have found yourself commenting that you are now “older and wiser.”
For more than 50 years or so some have posited a connection between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. This may have been a way to deal with the “information overload” – the term popularized by Alvin Toffler in his book, “Future Shock.” With the explosion of data (discrete measurements of different phenomena), it seemed useful to affirm the value of collecting all this data by suggesting that it increased the amount of information available. In turn, information was valuable because it expanded our body of knowledge. Inevitably, the next step in the progression must be “wisdom.”
David Weinberger is one of the critics of this developmental hierarchy. As he points out, “But knowledge is not a result merely of filtering or algorithms. It results from a far more complex process that is social, goal-driven, contextual, and culturally-bound”
(The Problem with the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom Hierarchy
, Harvard Business Review
, February 02, 2010).
Certainly, when it comes to observing the world and all its discrete parts, it is better to be attentive than oblivious. Our waking hours are spent discerning whether the things we perceive are relevant or inconsequential. We spend time, effort and resources educating our young people, our employees, and ourselves so that we are informed rather than ignorant. We practice the skills we acquire to achieve proficiency and to avoid appearing incompetent. We take pride in using our ability to reason in order that people recognize us as intelligent rather than irrational. Still, we are left with the question, “What is the source of wisdom?”
The Fear of the Lord
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge… (Proverbs 1:7a).
Fear. Here is another one of those words that can trip us up. You may not be thinking about visiting a haunted house this many months out from Halloween, but when you hear the word “fear,” it is difficult not to imagine Freddy Kruger or Texas Chainsaw Massacres. While there may be some events and characters in the Bible that are scary, the writer of Proverbs is not saying being scared of God is the entry to the path toward wisdom.
Perhaps you remember being called to the principal’s office when you were in elementary school. You had heard stories about other students who had been on the receiving end of stern discipline. When your name was called and it was clear where you were headed, the ache in your stomach seemed to consume you. While the Bible does describe occasions of discipline and judgment being meted out to those who live contrary to God’s plan, the writer of Proverbs is not saying that a deep sense of dread leads to wisdom.
Please allow me to suggest that when you take the whole testimony of the Bible into account, the most accurate word in common use today to convey the meaning that the writer of Proverbs was trying to communicate would be “awe.” I am aware that even “awe” may suffer from some of the same lack of precision we would prefer to avoid. After all, many commonplace events and performances are declared “awesome.”
Despite that, I hope you will affirm with me, “Our God is an awesome God!” As such, God deserves our respect, our obedience, and our utmost regard for the ineffable wonder of God’s presence, power, and glory. Acknowledging this moves us toward understanding that wisdom is not a human construct; indeed, wisdom is as much a part of who God is as love or mercy or grace or peace or joy. Each of these describe the nature of God’s character. Furthermore, it is God’s desire that each of us grow into the full likeness of God – that we receive God’s wisdom – along with all the other gifts God intends for us.
That our lives are guided by God’s wisdom is God’s plan, but as we find throughout scripture, we are faced with a choice: will we choose God’s way – the way of wisdom, or will we choose our own way – the way of folly? Will we seek justice or will we pursue exploitation? Will we value the relationships we have with God’s people over our own narrow self-interest?
Please note that “folly” has no lack of data, information, and knowledge. The writer of Proverbs is quite aware of the reasoning of those committed to enriching themselves at the expense of others (1:11-14). Not only is the writer aware of the arguments for pursuing folly, the writer recognizes how seductive they are (1:10, 15-16). The consequences of making the wrong choice are profound (1:19).
In closing this first chapter, we are introduced to “Woman Wisdom.” She appears in the midst of daily life:
Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.
At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
God’s wisdom is not to be reserved for theological conversations or for settling ecclesiological arguments. God’s wisdom is offered as guidance for our everyday lives. It is offered to enrich the quality of our relationships and the strength of our communities.
How does confusion about the meaning of some of the basic principles of Christian faith impact the nature of many of the conversations in our current cultural climate?
What words would you use to describe or explain “the fear of the Lord?”
What examples would you give of the difference between the consequences of making a wise choice and making a foolish one?
Rev. Ashley Randall is the pastor of Garden City UMC. He is working with a group of faith leaders across Chatham County to help establish the Savannah Area Interfaith Justice Ministry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.