Monday, June 29, 2009

A few words about wisdom

If there is a universal sense that wisdom exists in the world (especially a universally accepted wisdom), I am certain it is not found in the Holy Bible. Its not enough to cite the Book of Job as the primary example of the failure of Scripture in this matter. Nor is the lack of wisdom relegated to the odd passage or two found in Proverbs, such as Chapter 31: “Give strong drink to one who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his trouble no more.” (vs. 6f I don’t remember this verse being cited at my twelve-step meetings.)
It might seem odd for a confessing Jesus groupie to admonish Scripture for its lack of problem solving advice, but the whole of Proverbs, which seemingly contradicts the entire premise of Ecclesiastes, is fraught with untruths masquerading as Solomon’s moments of lucidity. Who ever believed that “the righteous is delivered from trouble, but the wicked takes his place.” (11:8) How about 19:5, that states “a false witness will not go unpunished, and he who tells lies will not escape.” Perhaps in the spiritual sense, though most politicians seem unconcerned with spiritual integrity.
In fact, Abraham lies and gets away with it, Jacob lies and gets away with it, Joseph tells lies of omission and gets away with it. Not only do they get away with it, they have the divine blessing. As for the righteous being delivered from trouble, I would love to hear the apostle Paul exegete that passage after delivering cash to the Church at Jerusalem or having an audience with Caesar. Perhaps Paul did not feel he was righteous enough, though I have a sinking feeling he privately knew he was the most righteous of all. He was humble enough to be whipped for Jesus, but he was hardly humble about the way the heavenly box score would read after martyrdom. I do believe, however, that he was outdone by Ignatius. Who else had a victory parade in honor of an impending execution.
Yet for the most part, the story of Israel and Jesus and the Church has much to do with foregoing conventional wisdom and taking the risks generally attributed to fools. Loving one’s neighbors may be wise in Solomon’s estimation, but loving one’s enemies might seem like foolishness all the way to the cross. It seems wise to pay the prescribed tribute to the political powers that be (in many parts of the modern, as well as the ancient world). It fails wisdom to suggest that the failed political movement of an oppressed minority, one who suggested that its dead leader was king, would be a threat to empire. Especially in the context of loving enemies.
This whole idea of resurrection as the vindicating event for this king who loves his enemies, however, is a notable exercise in foolishness, from the first century through to the twenty-first. It is sad, I believe, that folks might commit themselves to such folly. After all, conventional wisdom suggests that reason, democracy (or Marxism), and nuclear weapons are the sure ticket to salvation. Of course, those who are wise (or at least well educated) assure us that we need no salvation, that the nation state can not account for, through bureaucratic distribution of blessing and mercy, or, in other contexts, redistribution of wealth. Who needs resurrection when Medicare might pay for eternal life-support. Indeed, who needs rebirth when our younger years are marketed to us as nostalgia, keeping us forever in the backseat of 79 Nova. (Alas, I reveal too much) However, the sages of free-market may be the answer to our prayers. Conventional wisdom has it that after we enjoy this supposed resurrection of the saints, we won’t have to worry about accruing interest on late credit card payments. Torah usury laws are still in effect in heaven.
Forget about wisdom, I’ll take the foolishness of the cross…

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