Wisdom and Faith

 

My mother always said, “The burnt hand teaches best.” This usually was in response to when I did something reckless or was naïve about the consequences of my action, and usually in defiance of her warnings. It is the type of practical and common sense attitude that women of my mother’s generation would live by. 
OK I’ll be honest, my mother never said that. It would have been wise advice and I may have heeded it had she continually allowed me to injure myself with my own stubbornness and ignorance. My Mom, along with my aunts and grandmothers, were overprotective and watched over me like nervous hens. Rarely did I have an opportunity to risk life and limb and when I did I was nursed, pampered and lectured to the point that a broken bone or serious contusion would have been preferable.
My Mom simply could not conceive nor comprehend why any little boy would want to climb a tree, jump off a building, roll down the side of a hill, jump into a lake or pop a wheelie. She was mystified that my two brothers and I relished risking our youthful lives in such activities. So rather than letting us learned from “burnt hand”, she kept us away from any source of danger or harm.
In the Jewish culture of ancient times, women were second class citizens. They had no political rights and little recourse in the law. Yet they were acknowledged as worthy overseers of the family which was the bedrock of Jewish culture and held in the highest esteem. So when the early writers of Proverbs wanted to emphasis the importance of Wisdom in their culture, they used the figure of a woman to personify it.  For the Israelites, wisdom was held in the same high regards as many cultures honored courage or strength.
In the book of Proverbs wisdom was a guiding presence before the creation and essential in God’s intention for humanity. Wisdom was not a separate entity or being who served God, but a facet of God’s will and persona. In Proverbs, the figure of the woman speaking to her son is a metaphor showing how God uses wisdom to reveal truth and knowledge to the world. Its purpose is to guide us towards unquestioning faith.
For modern Christians, wisdom is an essential element of our sanctification towards Christ.  It is entwined with the Holy Spirit and allows us to accept faith as foundational in our relationship with God. As we seek wisdom through the Holy Spirit we become more like Christ and become the disciples that Jesus intended for us to be.
Mom was a wise woman.   She managed a household on a tight budget, maintained a clean and respectable home and kept her three sons and husband in line. She was an ideal example of the Proverbs scriptures: “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. 27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.”[1] 
But for all her wise and practical ways, my Mom could not see the world with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.  For her, life was about avoiding risk, not putting herself or her family in harm’s way, not endangering our finances or hard won resources. Wisdom and practicality were the same and the goal was safety and security. Mom believed that the best way keep from being burnt is to avoid anything that’s hot, or to keep from falling out of a tree is not to climb it, or to avoid drowning by not going into the water. We use to have a sign in our house which declared, “Anyone dumb enough to get out of bed in the morning is just asking for trouble.”
Many churches today have the same outlook. Their priority is to maintain the status quo and protect what hard work, sacrifice and common sense has created for them. And in so doing they feel they are being wise and faithful in the ways of God.  For the modern church the spiritual gift of wisdom is like a shield that protects us from our enemies. “As a hen gathers her chicks under her wings”[2], we ask for God’s wisdom to “hide me in the shadow of your wings”.[3]
 It is a sign of wisdom to avoid trouble, but it is also unwise to elude risk, believing we will be protected from injury. As we all know, trouble will find us. Thus how we deal with difficulties is a greater measure of our wisdom and the surest way to acquire it. In avoiding the risk of falling, drowning or burning, we cannot learn to fish, gather fruit or cook our food. When wisdom is used for self preservation then we become weakened in faith. Faith, hope, love, wisdom, courage, knowledge, discernment and several more are spiritual
gifts which God gives freely and with purpose. Wisdom is not for show or to be put on display in a trophy case.
Wisdom is given for a reason. It is to be tested and tried, used and abused, hammered and beaten, broken and mended and even burnt. It is the gift which guides us through the fire and strengthens us to take risk. When wisdom guides us to faith we can look beyond the dangers, the uncertainties, the doubts, the fears and see a greater reward than safety or security. 
Ask a hundred clergy to define Grace and you’ll get a hundred different answers. And each one will be the truth. If asked, I would attempt to link all the definitions with a simple idea that is common to all interpretations: Grace is
a gift from God. This includes wisdom which helps us perceive the presence of God, to be saved by the resurrection of Christ and be guided by the Holy Spirit. 
In Romans 5:1-5 Paul reiterates that we are justified by faith and cannot earn God’s grace by any efforts we make ourselves. “Therefore,
since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
[4]    As with all spiritual gifts, wisdom is used
to prepare the world for receiving and using God’s Grace.  It also guides us on our journey of faith, teaching us to climb and swim and to handle fire. Wisdom does not keep us out of harms ways but prepares us to face the obstacles that separate us from faith in God. Wisdom is not acquired by being safe and taking no risk. Wisdom can only be received when we seek to continue the journey Jesus took to the cross.
Paul tells us, ” And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”[5]
Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope and hope allows God’s love (grace) to enter into us.  What underpins endurance, character and hope is wisdom. And as we acquire wisdom we are propelled from a false sense of trust grounded in safety to a real faith which overcomes suffering, is tempered by endurance and creates character which reflects Christ.
It’s not hard to understand why any mother wants to protect her children. Biblical writers chose the maternal persona to represent wisdom because wisdom is what keeps us safe and guides us through the struggles of life. It also fortifies our faith in God. Modern churches also seek to protect their congregations and shield them from harm. But the figurehead of a woman in the Book of Proverbs is not a shield maiden protecting us from harm, but a teacher empowering us to face the challenges of the world and assuring us that our faith in God’s love is incontrovertible.  Wisdom is a gift of grace from God that strengthens our faith, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”[6]

[1]
Proverbs 31:26-27
[2]
Luke 13:34
[3]
Psalm 17:8
[4]
Romans 5:1
[5] Romans 5:3-5
[6]
1 John 5:4