The Fear of the Lord

Easily one of the most famous Proverbs, verse 1:7 (CSB) reads like this:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and discipline.

This is one that you’ve probably already heard a lot about, so I’m not going to spend a ton of time on it. I do want to talk about the second line a bit though. “The fool” is a stereotypical character that we’re going to be seeing a lot of as we go through the rest of this book, normally in contrast to “the wise man.” Our first image of him here is someone who refuses to listen. It doesn’t matter how sound the advice, how accurate the statement, or anything else. Whatever qualifier you put on the information, if it doesn’t fit with what the fool already believes, he isn’t going to listen. Along the same lines, any attempt at discipline or correction won’t help him either, but will instead just make him more stubbornly opposed to whatever you’re trying to teach him.

It’s unfortunate to see a fool in any circumstance, but a Christian fool is, in my opinion, the worst kind. We’re supposed to be working out our salvation “with fear and trembling,” not pride and stubbornness (just so you know, I really wanted to put “prejudice” there, but it didn’t quite fit for the point I was making, but now you get to hear the joke anyway, so it’s a win-win). We need to be growing in our faith as much as possible. None of us are perfect, and none of us are going to be on this side of heaven. To write off the wisdom of others without giving it a second thought is a great way to create an echo chamber of bad ideas. We all know there are “Christians” out there who’ve got it all wrong (**cough cough** Westboro Baptist **cough cough**). How did they get so far off track? They cherry-picked a few verses that they liked and rewrote the rest of the Bible according to how they thought it should be based off of what they already believed.

Most of us aren’t going to go to the effort of creating our own Bible translation to satisfy our beliefs, we’re too lazy for that. Instead we choose which Bible passages to study and which ones to ignore, which preachers to listen to and which ones to write off as unbiblical. I’m not saying that everyone who claims to be preaching the Bible is right and you should believe what everyone says, I’m saying you shouldn’t dismiss them without thought. Ideas are the most important and powerful tools we have, and ignoring any number of them simply on the basis that they don’t line up with what you already believe is putting a lot of potential power to waste, and worse, makes you vulnerable to people with better ideas, potentially undermining your entire faith some day.

Challenge yourself and your own ideas. Don’t just listen to people who say what you want to hear. Actually listen to people who oppose you and either figure out why you’re right or concede the point. It’s ok to be wrong. It absolutely sucks in the moment, and you’re pretty much never going to desire being wrong, but if you can learn to accept it and learn from it, you get to be wrong less often in the future. And that’s something I think we should all be striving for.

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Proverbs: An Introduction

Like I said in my previous post, we’ll be taking the next few months to get an in-depth look at Proverbs. Before we really get started though, it’s important to know some background information. This is actually stuff that I hadn’t realized before, so hopefully you’ll be able to learn something too. The information we’re discussing here today is probably available in a lot of places, but I’m getting it from the CSB Apologetics Study Bible. I’ve only had it for a couple of weeks, but I’m really liking what I’m seeing out of it so far. But enough with the sale’s pitch, let’s get down to business. Maybe we’ll even defeat a few Huns on the way. Probably not, but who knows?

As most people know, much of Proverbs was written by King Solomon, the son of David. However, it appears that Solomon not only wrote his own observations, he also gathered wisdom from other cultures. At first glance, that might seem counter-intuitive. Why would a man who had prayed for – and received – wisdom straight from God also receive wisdom from pagan peoples? Egypt in particular seems to be one of Solomon’s sources for some of his wisdom. So how does wisdom from a culture that enslaved the Israelites for generations make its way into their holy book?

In order to understand that, you need to first understand how the Israelites looked at wisdom. When you look at the book of Proverbs, you’ll notice that very little of it is actually theological in concept, it’s mostly stating observations about life and how to live a good one. Regardless of the source of the observation, the Israelites understood that God created a universe of order, not chaos. Therefore, it had rules that could be seen and understood by anyone who was paying close enough attention, which is why they didn’t have a problem taking in the wisdom of other cultures.

Although they were open to receiving wisdom from others, there were two main qualifications that needed to be met by each incoming piece of wisdom. First, it could not be derived directly from their religion, as that would go directly against the God who created the order that any wisdom is attempting to understand. Second, as the Author of all knowledge, the Israelites pursued wisdom in reverence to God. They saw wisdom through the lens of their understanding of God, not the other way around. Any piece of wisdom that attempted to usurp that order wasn’t seen as valid.

One issue that I’ve struggled with before is the fact that there are a number of proverbs that seem to either not be entirely accurate on their own merits or even contradict other proverbs. What I’ve learned, though, is that proverbs aren’t meant to be taken at face value. The purpose of a book of wisdom isn’t simply to instill knowledge, it’s to make you think. The ones that seem inaccurate, or at least not wholly true, such as proverbs that state “long life for the righteous, but premature death for the wicked,” say something that obviously isn’t true in all circumstances. But it isn’t supposed to be a law of nature, it’s a statement of general truth. If you live a life of debauchery, you’re much more likely to find yourself at the end of your life much sooner than if you live a healthy, orderly one (Pro-tip: there are plenty of studies out there that show living a Biblical lifestyle will actually improve your life-span and quality of life overall). Then there are the ones that contradict one another. Proverbs 26:4-5 reads like this: “Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness, or you’ll become like him yourself; answer a fool according to his foolishness, or he’ll become wise in his own eyes.” Obviously, you can’t both answer a fool according to his foolishness and not do it at the same time. So what can we learn from verses like these? Well, like we said earlier, these are statements of general truth, not absolute truth. So in some situations, it’s better to leave the conversation or else be dragged down with the fool, and in others it’s better to have the argument/debate/whatever to show the fool correction. Different circumstances will require different approaches, and Solomon (and the other wisdom writers) recognized this. Proverbs are probably some of the easiest verses to take out of context because there’s no narrative for it to be taken out of, but if you only take 26:4 or 26:5 without the other, you’re omitting crucial data. Many of the proverbs are ambiguous, and that’s done purposefully to provoke thought, not just to allow you to bend it to whatever view you tend to hold.

So as we make our foray into Proverbs, let’s make sure to keep these things in mind: not all of the proverbs came directly from Solomon or even the Israelites, but from around the world (but that doesn’t mean they aren’t valid); wisdom needs to be seen through the lens of an understanding of who God is and how He created the world with order; proverbs are statements of general truths, not absolutes; ambiguous statements are meant to provoke thought, not thoughtlessness.

With all that said, let’s jump in. If you want to join with me, I’ll be reading one chapter of Proverbs per week, re-reading the same chapter each day of the week. I’ll be writing about a different aspect of the chapter each day, focusing in on a couple of verses. Disclaimer: this doesn’t mean I’ll be posting every day, but you’ll probably see at least two or three posts a week from me while we do this (don’t worry, they won’t all be this long, I promise). New chapters will start on Mondays, so this first week will be a little short, but then we’ll have a regular schedule.

Thanks as always for reading, and I’m looking forward to getting a little wiser with all of you.

The Start of Something New

So, it’s been a little while. I’ve gone a long time without writing, and I want to change that. One of the main reasons that I haven’t been able to keep to a regular schedule up to this point is because I’ve made it more important for each and every post to be perfect before I post it…except that a lot of the ones I’ve actually posted have only gone up after I’ve decided that it didn’t matter, I just needed to post something. So at least for the near future, that’s what I’ll be doing: posting something. Even if it’s only 100 words. Even if I can’t envision exactly how everyone will interpret it. Even if it isn’t my best work. It’s literally impossible for everything to be my best, so I’m not going to set my sights quite that high anymore. It’s more important to me to write something than to pine after that perfect post that I’m never going to write.

The current plan is to start with a “weekly” post on the book of Proverbs, one chapter per week. I say “weekly” with quotes because what will most likely happen is not one post per week discussing all of the minor points, but rather a few smaller posts throughout the week, each one focusing on just a couple of verses.

I’m sure that as time goes on that I’ll expand my posts into more general topics, anything from modern American Christianity to discussing favorite song lyrics and maybe even a little more politics if I feel brave enough. For now though, this is what I’ve got, and hopefully you’ll continue the journey with me.

Keep looking behind the blurs, and we’ll talk again soon.