Reflections by Rev Dr Paul Tonson - Interim Minister

Human Wisdom and Faith

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Human Wisdom and Faith

The first character in the Bible interested in Wisdom was Eve. She looked at the forbidden fruit and found it attractive as a way to gain wisdom. Adam hadn’t even thought about it! We do learn from the forbidden. Eve certainly learnt something. But was it wisdom, to feel naked and ashamed? Are we wise when we lose our first naivete?

The big name in Jewish wisdom tradition is Solomon. He prayed not for a long life nor for riches but for wisdom, meaning discernment. The narrator portrays Solomon as wise in national development and international diplomacy but is candid enough to record Solomon’s lack of wisdom in other ways. We may be wise in some respects and naive and blind in other ways. I know this from personal experience LOL.

Whether Solomon actually wrote proverbs, there is one that is still durable: ‘Don’t rebuke a scorner lest he hate you; but rebuke a wise man and he will love you.’ (9:8). The implicit question asks whether we are wise enough to know when to welcome criticism? Not easy.

A high point of Hebrew wisdom is in the story of Job, an innocent man who faced great trials and personal tragedy. Wisdom knows that bad things happen to good people. But still people try in vain to reconcile their concept of a benevolent God with the fact of the accidental in nature, both the good and the bad, for which there are no reasons.

Christian tradition was soon stamped with Greek categories of thought by St Paul, a Jew with Greek learning. Writing to Corinth, he discounts the sophistry of Greek philosophers and also the learning of Jewish scribes. He invites us to value instead what he calls “the foolishness of the gospel”. Are we open to truth outside our familiar categories?

Paul is not against all learning. But at the heart of his teaching is the claim that something about the life and death of Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth has enduring meaning for human life. The foolishness of Paul’s gospel is the irony of relinquishment that Jesus, and the Buddha, and Gandhi taught and lived: “He who will save his life will lose it, he who will lose his life will save it.” This is a wisdom not dependent on any supernatural element.

The wisdom teaching of Jesus is found in his parables of the kingdom, almost entirely about a way of living with a sense of community kingdom. They are not
spiritualised above earthly experience but are counter-cultural and subversive. They
call for a deep level of relinquishment and self-giving to each other. This Way of living transcends every ideology. It is a wise Way we all can take together.



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