The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth ...
When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command ...
then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.
And now my children, listen to me, happy are those who keep my way ...
Happy are those who listen to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting besides my doors.
For those who find me, find life, and obtain favour from the Lord
But those who miss me, injure themselves; all who hate me love death. (Proverbs 8, 22-36)
Christ in whom are hid all treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2,3)
The Bible contains several accounts of creation. We are, of course, all familiar with the first chapter of the Bible, the majestic account of God creating the world in seven days. God utters the command and light, water, earth, animals and human beings come into existence. The account in Proverbs is different. The emphasis is on God’s wisdom in creating the world. Wisdom is personified – it is presented as a woman or perhaps a girl dancing in front of God. She was created before anything else. She was present at all stages of God’s creation. Wisdom, Sophia, is at God’s side as he creates the universe. She dances and takes delight in the world and its inhabitants.
The image is immensely attractive. But, of course, there is also challenge connected with it. For us, human beings, it is essential to recognize the wisdom which is built into this world. The image of Sophia dancing before God, leads to an invitation. â€œAnd now, my children, she tells us, listen to me; happy are those who keep my ways.â€ Listening to Sophia is a matter of life or death.Let us hear again the concluding statement: â€œFor those who find me, find life, ... but all who hate me, love death.â€ This statement is of almost frightening relevance. Because is it not obvious that the wisdom in God’s ordering of the world is being violated on all accounts? Wisdom dances before God, but we don’t join her dance but are led by the rhythm of our own will. Wisdom asks us to watch daily at her gates and to wait besides her doors. But we have long ago decided to construct the world according to our own plans.
The past decades have brought an enormous increase in knowledge. In all areas of human life the limits of the unknown have been pushed back. Much of what seemed to be for ever an impenetrable mystery, has become explicable, even more: open to the manipulation by human skill. But does this mean that we have become wiser? Knowledge and wisdom are not the same, and don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Knowledge is the access to new insights. Wisdom is the ability to deal with these insights in ways which serve life. Knowledge, by itself, is not yet a gain. Knowledge without wisdom leads to death.
And this is what we discover in all areas of life. We know that nuclear energy implies incalculable risks but we continue to make use of it. We know that mobility pollutes the air and contributes to global warming, but we continue our motorised style of life. We know that the consumption of industrialized countries plunders the resources of the planet and creates unmanageable mountains of waste but we continue to expect salvation from further economic growth. We know that not only New Orleans, but many cities, located close to the ocean, are vulnerable but we close our eyes to the danger. Why? Why does the voice of wisdom have no chance? Clearly, because we have allowed knowledge to be the ally of profit. Therefore, whenever considerations of profit are at stake, the voice of wisdom cannot be heard.
Referring to Christ, Paul says in his letter to the Colossians: â€œin whom are hid all treasures of wisdom and knowledgeâ€. Paul speaks of wisdom and knowledge in one breath, and it seems to be his deep conviction that all wisdom we need to deal with insights provided by knowledge can be obtained by following Christ. Following Christ opens new horizons and leads to alternative yardsticks.
Let me mention three:
- The first step on the way to wisdom is the recognition of God as the creator of all things. Praising God as the source of all life is the absolute priority on the way to wisdom.
- The second aspect is the recognition that life is more than economic growth. Jesus laughs at the rich who have no other purpose in life than accumulating goods. In his eyes they have no notion of wisdom. â€œYou foolâ€, he says of the rich farmer. The idea of steady economic growth stands in clear contradiction with Jesus message.
- And the third aspect is communion – living together in mutual respect. There no higher priority in Christian life than to build a fellowship of solidarity. The goods of the world have been made available to be shared among all.
Three steps towards wisdom! Ultimately they can be summarized through the double commandment of loving God and our neighbour. The commandment is the key to wisdom and to life.
In the Orthodox tradition Wisdom plays a more significant role than in the West. Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia, is venerated in the Orthodox Churches. We all know or have heard of churches dedicated to Wisdom, co-creator of the universe, the most famous in Istanbul. It is no longer used as a church but can be visited as a museum. It sounds strange: wisdom as a museum! But, important as it is, the building is not decisive. We, you are, the Temple of God. We are the living stones of God’s dwelling placed on earth. In our hearts Wisdom must take roots. Every place can be turned into a Hagia Sophia conveying Wisdom’s message to the world.