I used to think I had a pretty good grasp on the Bible. The past few years, however, as I’ve opened myself up to more and more ideas, I’ve come to realise just how close-minded about it I once was.
I can’t recall exactly what it was that started it all, but for some reason a phrase kept circling around my head; “Surely you’re not arrogant enough to think you have it totally worked out?”. Well, if you’re as reflective as I am and you can be honest with yourself, you’ll understand the conundrum this thought might have put me in.
As someone very inclined towards critical thinking, I knew I had to try harder. That what I thought God was, and the nature of Wisdom… It was way bigger than that.
There’s this terrific Proverbs which goes;
“Do not answer fools according to their folly,
or you will be a fool yourself.
Answer fools according to their folly,
or they will be wise in their own eyes.”
(Proverbs chapter 26 verses 4 to 5, NRSV)
These two verses seemingly contradict themselves and likely make any reader stop in their tracks. Alas, it’s not a printing error, but indeed two entirely contradictory statements which are back to back. And I believe it holds a clue towards understanding the wisdom of the Bible.
You see, these two verses placed right here force the reader to stop and think. They invite us to meditate and discuss and decide on which is more befitting and how they can both apply to different situations; why would they both be in the Bible if only one was true?
What if I told you there are entire books in the Bible which flatly contradict each other? Don’t believe me? Read Proverbs, then read Job. In Proverbs, we learn all about the nature of the moral and upstanding man who pursues that Lady Wisdom and is given all the heavenly gifts under the sun. In Job, however, we meet a man who, by God’s own words, is all these things. Yet, everything is taken from him.
In Proverbs, we learn of a binary system of good and evil and that if we do good, good things happen to us. During his suffering, one of Job’s friends says this to him, inferring Job must have done something to deserve such a punishment. Still God says, at the end of the poem, that Job has done no wrong in his eyes and that the friends’ theology - which in a lot of cases directly quoted the Proverbs - was not true.
What then does this mean for us? Well, I mentioned the key to wisdom might lie in the ‘folly’ verses, and now I will briefly look at how.
Maybe we don’t serve ourselves very well when we look at the Bible trying to put it together like a big puzzle. Maybe it’s more like a symphony.
Maybe, just maybe, wisdom is not a binary of didactic teachings for us to follow, but it’s an invitation for us to discuss things and meditate on things and to understand that just because things don’t add up (as we think they should in our modern understanding, bearing in mind that scientific/empirical thought is a fairly new concept) doesn’t mean they not true.
Maybe, the Bible is symphonic in nature; maybe it has a variety of different voices who were inspired by God and had a discussion over hundreds of years through their words and ideas.
Maybe we can glean more from them not trying to force them together like a puzzle, but in listening to the different parts and what they might each be trying to say.
Job and Proverbs don’t agree at all, and nor does Ecclesiastes, and yet each contains its own rich and thought-provoking wisdom that sits pregnant with possibility, inviting us to have dialogue over and with it and to reflect on it.
Maybe, we’re not meant to do mental gymnastics to try and figure out why there are actually a multitude of Creation accounts. Maybe they’re simply each conveying some different type of wisdom or simply trying to point something out about the other. Maybe, the nature of wisdom, is that things don’t add up like two and two making four.
I don’t know about you, but this seriously excites me. I still have a lot to read about it (if you’re interested, look into ‘Truth is Polyphonic/Symphonic’ and ‘Dialogical truth’ in your late-night Google sessions).
Because if it adds up, like I said, gone are the days where the Bible is mostly confusing and only really makes sense on a verse-to-verse basis. Instead we can replace it for a rich tapestry of concepts and ideas and wisdom to glean from to better navigate the world and to better love God and His ways.
Josiah Gray lives in Logan City, Australia. He is currently studying teaching at Christian Heritage College and is committed to telling the story of Jesus to the next generation. Josiah’s previous articles may be viewed at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/josiah-gray.html