“The Wisdom of God’

Proverbs 8:22-31

 

I Corinthians 1:23-24: … but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Charles T. Fritsch: [Today’s text from Proverbs] is the highest conception of wisdom found in the canonical books [of Scripture].  Wisdom therefore should be obeyed not only because of the advantages she brings, but also because of her essential nature and the high place she holds in the universe.

[prayer]

Many of you may recall the movie The Sound of Music.  Early in the movie there is a song sung by a group of nuns about a young novice named Maria who just couldn’t seem to get the hang of life in the convent.  The title of that song is “What’ll We Do with a Problem Like Maria?”

I could easily have titled today’s sermon “What’ll We Do with a Problem Like Sophia?”  Sophia, of course, being the Greek word for Wisdom.  First of all, this Wisdom is feminine.  Commentators refer to her as Dame Wisdom or Lady Wisdom.  According to one interpretation of the text the Wisdom in today’s text can be considered to be a personification of God.  Thus Sophia becomes a name for God.  In other words, God can be referred to as a she as well as a he.  That tends to drive some Christians up the wall.  “The next thing you know, they may be thinking, “somebody’s going to tell us that we must pray to God the Mother.”

Before any of you start squirming in your seats or begin questioning the orthodoxy of your pastor’s theology, let’s back up a little.  In the Revised and New Revised Standard Versions verse 22 of today’s text is translated, “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work.”  If Wisdom is a creation of God, then Wisdom cannot be considered a person of God.  Wisdom may predate the creation of the universe, but she is still creature not Creator.

The King James and Today’s International Versions translate verse 22 more like this; “The Lord created me as the beginning of his work.”  In other words, God’s first creation was wisdom.  But that still makes Lady Wisdom creature rather than Creator.

But one commentator, a Southern Baptist no less, interprets the text as giving Wisdom a personality.  This personified Wisdom, according to Dr. L. D. Johnson, was present at and an agent of creation.  She is a female expression of God’s self-disclosure.  That makes her Creator.

Dr. Johnson goes on to equate Wisdom with the pre-existent Logos, the pre-existent Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ.  He backs this up this interpretation by referring to the text from First Corinthians that I read just prior to the sermon.  In that text Jesus Christ is referred to as the wisdom of God.  Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, became the incarnate expression of God’s Wisdom.  Thus according to Dr. Johnson and others Wisdom equals Word, incorporating her into the Trinity.

That may be stretching Dr. Johnson’s interpretation farther than he intended.  But he does interpret the Wisdom of today’s text as a hazy glimpse of what would eventually become the New Testament doctrine of the pre-existent Christ, a predecessor of both the Logos and Holy Spirit, an early theological step in the direction of the doctrine of the Trinity. 

Most commentators, however, focus on a more depersonalized Wisdom that is an attribute, possession, or creation of God – creature not Creator.  This in no way, however, makes wisdom something to be taken lightly.  Lady Wisdom, Miss Sophia if you prefer, was at creation, working alongside God as God put it all together.  Some of the ancient texts say “little child” rather than “master worker,” thus the emphasis is on Wisdom’s presence at but not participation in creation.

Needless to say God’s Wisdom has been around for a long, long time.  She may not have been around as long as God, but she definitely pre-dates the heavens and the earth.  She may not be part of the Godhead, a person of the Trinity, but she’s been hanging around with them since way before we were created.  Verse 30 refers to her as God’s own delight.  As such she is a force to be reckoned with.  Hers is a voice to be listened to.  Hers is guidance that we ignore at our own peril.  To paraphrase an old television commercial for a certain butter substitute, “It’s not smart to fool with Lady Wisdom.”

Why should we even want to?  As verse 31 puts it Lady Wisdom has been rejoicing in God’s created world from day one.  She is depicted as delighting in the human race.  We are a delight to her.  She derives pleasure from our presence.  To her we are extremely pleasing.  Wisdom is our friend.  She likes, no, she loves, us a lot.  Her wish for us is grace and goodness.  She wants us to be the whole, healthy persons that God created us to be.  She desires for us nothing less than God’s shalom – the peace that passes all understanding.

Not only does Wisdom wish us shalom; she also leads us in the ways of shalom.  Earlier in chapter eight she is described in terms of justice and righteousness.  By way of Wisdom we can live the just and righteous lives that lead to peace; we can be part of relationships that lead to the health, wholeness, and goodness that God desires for all of creation.  If we listen to this Wisdom of God and follow her guidance, we will avoid the self-destructive pitfalls that damage our lives, disrupt the lives of others, and corrupt the goodness of creation.

So it is good to pay attention to Wisdom.  By way of her insight kings are enabled to reign and rulers empowered to rule.  The fruit of Wisdom is more valuable to us than the finest silver and gold, for silver and gold cannot buy the peace that Wisdom brings.  Nor can they in themselves bring about God’s justice and righteousness in the world.

In other parts of Proverbs and other places in Scripture, some practical advice concerning Wisdom is laid out for us.  Proverbs is full of Wisdom’s insights into life and living.  Proverbs is full of Wisdom’s insights into staying in right relationships with God and our fellow human beings.  That’s why Proverbs is among those books of the Bible that we call Wisdom Literature.

Biblical scholars and theologians will probably never arrive at a full agreement on the answer to the question of Wisdom being a person of God or an attribute of God.  There never will be an answer to the question, “What’ll we do with a problem like Sophia?” that satisfies everybody.  Questions concerning Wisdom’s relationship to the Godhead will persist until that day when such questions are rendered irrelevant by the dawning if the realized Kingdom of God. 

The answers to such questions, like those we want to ask the Apostle Paul about why he wrote what he did about women in First Corinthians, await us in heaven.  But by the time we get there we really won’t care what those answers are.  Meanwhile, whatever our interpretation, we must take Wisdom seriously.  After all, she’s been around a whole lot longer than we have, and from the very beginning she has been God’s daily delight.  She rejoices in his inhabited world.  She delights in the human race.  Do we really need to know more than that?  Amen.