Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:
Interlude: Where Wisdom Is Found
1There is a mine for silver
and a place where gold is refined.
2Iron is taken from the earth,
and copper is smelted from ore.
3Mortals put an end to the darkness;
they search out the farthest recesses
for ore in the blackest darkness.
4Far from human dwellings they cut a shaft,
in places untouched by human feet;
far from other people they dangle and sway.
5The earth, from which food comes,
is transformed below as by fire;
6lapis lazuli comes from its rocks,
and its dust contains nuggets of gold.
7No bird of prey knows that hidden path,
no falcon’s eye has seen it.
8Proud beasts do not set foot on it,
and no lion prowls there.
9People assault the flinty rock with their hands
and lay bare the roots of the mountains.
10They tunnel through the rock;
their eyes see all its treasures.
11They search the sources of the rivers
and bring hidden things to light.
12But where can wisdom be found?
Where does understanding dwell?
13No mortal comprehends its worth;
it cannot be found in the land of the living.
14The deep says, “It is not in me”;
the sea says, “It is not with me.”
15It cannot be bought with the finest gold,
nor can its price be weighed out in silver.
16It cannot be bought with the gold of Ophir,
with precious onyx or lapis lazuli.
17Neither gold nor crystal can compare with it,
nor can it be had for jewels of gold.
18Coral and jasper are not worthy of mention;
the price of wisdom is beyond rubies.
19The topaz of Cush cannot compare with it;
it cannot be bought with pure gold.
20Where then does wisdom come from?
Where does understanding dwell?
21It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing,
concealed even from the birds in the sky.
22Destruction and Death say,
“Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.”
23God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells,
24for he views the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
25When he established the force of the wind
and measured out the waters,
26when he made a decree for the rain
and a path for the thunderstorm,
27then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.
28And he said to the human race,
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.”
This reading is the last in the lectionary series of readings from the book of Job. But interestingly, it’s not the last passage of Job. That was the listed Old Testament reading for yesterday – Job 42:1-17. This reading appears about two-thirds of the way through the book. But it’s a reflection on the nature of Wisdom, and you might remember that we said that Job is from a group of Old Testament books we call “Wisdom literature.” (Others from that group are Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.)
It seems that the editors of the lectionary thought that having read all the way through Job, and having read all the ‘un-wise’ opinions of Job’s wife and friends, we should go back and think about true wisdom as an aspect of the life of authentic faith.
In Job, his wife and friends offer all kinds of explanations for the misfortunes that have befallen him. And some of them are the same kinds of explanations you still hear from people of faith today – usually expressed as “Everything happens for a reason,” or “God must be testing you,” or “You must have done something to make God mad,” and so on. But at the end God shows up and tells Job that none of these answers hold water, and that there aren’t tidy answers for why things bad happen.
So the real wisdom that’s the bottom line of this book of Wisdom literature is that there are some things that are beyond our understanding, and that true wisdom comes from humbly walking with our God. As this passage ends, “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.”
But before we put Job entirely behind us, I’d like to suggest that we spend a few minutes thinking about what wisdom really means, especially what it seems to mean in the context of God’s interaction with the world. And to do that, I’d like to suggest that we think a little about two other terms – information and knowledge.
Most of us have access to far more information than people in earlier times could have dreamed of. The smart phones we carry around give us instant access to far more information than the scholars in the best libraries would have had a hundred years ago. But as most of us have realized by now, having access to all that raw information isn’t worth much (aside from settling the occasional argument) unless we’re able to apply some of it in a useful way.
That’s where knowledge comes in, it seems to me. Knowledge is the ability to take information about some subject, organize it in some way, and put it to meaningful use. Plug a scanner into your car’s OBD port, and it’ll spit out a code to tell you why your ‘check engine’ light is on. That code is information. But your mechanic’s ability to know what that code means and what to do about it – that’s knowledge.
But wisdom, it seems to me, is the capacity to apply knowledge to the task of promoting human flourishing. A person with wisdom can take knowledge and use it in such a way that people’s lives are improved. People are made happier and healthier. They live together more harmoniously. The common welfare is improved.
But in the context of our relationship with God, biblical Wisdom is the ability to take knowledge from the Bible and from our observation of the creation in which God has put us, and to use that knowledge in promoting the flourishing of good and healthy relationship with God. Biblical Wisdom helps people live in ways that please God more and more. If you remember the ‘fruits of the Spirit’ that Paul lists and that we pray about frequently – love, joy, peace, goodness, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – those are probably characteristics of the life of true Biblical Wisdom.
So I suppose you could make the case that Wisdom itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit – as that Spirit is at work in the life of a person who “fears God” in the sense that they serve God in reverent, loving obedience.
And that’s probably where we’re meant to wind up in thinking about the story of Job and the meaning of Biblical Wisdom.
Let’s pray. Lord, in a world that almost worships the technology that provides us with information, help us to use that information and the knowledge that comes from it in a way that promotes the flourishing of all your children, and especially that helps us and them come to know you better and serve you more faithfully. Amen.
Grace and Peace,
(The other readings for today are Psalms 27 and 36, Acts 16:25-40; and John 12:27-36.)