Sputtin’ on Wisdom

Spotten┬áis a great word from my youth. It’s a warning that the joking you’re doing about church/God/the Bible is teetering on the line between affectionate and offensive. The line, of course, is subjective, but I’ll try not to go too far. [finally got the correct spelling from my father: a Dutch word meaning blasphemy]

In late 2010, I started reading at Genesis 1:1 with the intention to read the Bible all the way through from beginning to end. I had no timetable. Which was good, because two and a half years later, I’m only at Proverbs 9. There were a few hiccups, a few months-long pauses, but with the kids back in school this week, it’s my chance to get back into routine. Sometimes, it’s a pleasure; it was this project that got me going on reimagining the story of David and Saul. And sometimes it’s a struggle to find “the personal application.”

Like yesterday. Proverbs 6 & 7 are all about keeping away from the immoral woman, on and on about the immoral woman. Sure, I turned this into a warning to keep away from ideas or people who will try to seduce me away from what I know to be right and good, but there was a nagging voice in my head, “As if the man would be pure as the driven snow if only the bad woman didn’t thrust herself right up in his face and offer herself to him.” Hmph.

And then today’s selection (Prov. 8-9) had wisdom as a woman standing at the crossroads and city gates yelling at people. I grew up in Toronto and lived in NYC for several years and this description made me think of homeless people I’d see on the street — dirty, smelly, hair matted, ranting. For someone whose fourth sentence is, “Let me give you common sense” (8:3), screaming at passersby doesn’t seem like the most common-sense way to get your point across.

So I’m not starting off in a terribly holy mental place. It didn’t get much better with, “Good advice and success belong to me. Insight and strength are mine. Because of me, kings reign, and rules make just laws. Rulers lead with my help, and nobles make righteous judgments” (8:14-16). This is fine when about wisdom generally, but put in the mouth of my mentally imbalanced woman ranting on the corner, not so much.

How about our crazy lady coming out with this? “Unending riches, honor, wealth and justice are mine to distribute. My gifts are better than the purest gold, my wages better than sterling silver!” (8:17-19). And then she gets all trippy: “I was born before the oceans were created, before the springs bubbled forth their waters….I was there when [God] established the heavens, when he drew the horizon on the oceans. I was there when he established the deep fountains of the earth….And when he marked off the earth’s foundations, I was the architect at his side” (8:27-31).

So I was constantly fighting with myself, smirking at my mental images and trying to rein them in so I could find the message in there.

And then came this, which smacked me between the eyes. “But the wise, when rebuked, will love you all the more. Teach the wise, and they will be wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn more” (9:8-9).

The typical image of the wise person, or the person with the gift of wisdom, is of someone with something to say that you need to listen to. The person may come across as haranguing (see above) or as gentle, but he or she always has a message to improve your life. This is utterly different. This is the wise person as the one who is teachable, the one who is open to correction.

Someone recently told me that I had the gift of wisdom, which really surprised me. I think of myself as having an analytic and occasionally perceptive mind. Now and then, there’s a flash of insight or connection and I do have something to say. But my faults are ever before me. The things say are not always well-thought-out and are sometimes hurtful in ways in didn’t intend. My desires and plans so far outstrip my actions that it’s embarrassing. I have so much to learn.

And that’s where the 9:9 passage gets me: I can pursue wisdom by being teachable. And Christianity being what it is, it won’t be information I’ll be seeking. It’ll be my way of life, my ability to follow through, my regular practice of opening myself up to what I read in the Bible and what I hear from God in all the ways He communicates with me.

So even when my snarkiness gets in the way of what I’m reading, God can still sneak in and teach me.