Proverbs as Puzzle*
Goethe once said of languages that “whoever know only one, knows none,” and that is likely true, but it is even more true of proverbs. If one proverb says, “The morally good always have a good life,” and later one says, “Sometimes the morally good suffer,” we modern readers think we’ve found a contradiction. That’s because we think of proverbs either as individual stand-alone promises or commands. But usually they are neither. Each is a description of some aspect of how life works. One proverb on marriage, taken by itself, seems to apply to every instance. A later proverb, however, reveals that there are some marriage situations in which a different practice is required. Only taken and fitted together, with each one modifying the others as the parallel clauses do, do the proverbs yield a full multidimensional picture of a particular topic.
Proverbs, then, give up their meaning only cumulatively. No one saying gives you the whole picture. For instance, Proverbs 29:19 says that servants simply cannot understand the reason they should do things, so you just have to be very strict with them. This seems to be a sweeping statement about their capabilities, but Proverbs 17:2 tells us that a wise servant can end up being better than a family member. Only when the two are placed together can we see that 29:19 is not talking about all servants and employees but rather about those with an unresponsive, sullen attitude.
So if we read Proverbs’ various statements on a subject all together, we can see many larger points. In chapter 12 we are told that the path towards disaster can seem to be the right one to a fool, but in chapter 16, that the disastrous road can appear to be right to anyone. In other words, sometimes, even if you have done due diligence, your choices may still go wrong, because it is a broken world. The wise know that sometimes “all paths may run ill.” As we will see, there is an order God put into things when he created the world and by which we must abide. But on the other hand this is a fallen world, distorted by sin, and the wise knows that the created order does not always work, nor is it always easy to discern.
Only together do the proverbs bring us a wise, nuanced, theologically rich, many faceted view of the world.
* Taken from Tim Keller’s God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life
This Week’s Bible Reading Schedule:
|Monday: Proverbs 17||☐||Thursday: Proverb 20||☐|
|Tuesday: Proverbs 18||☐||Friday: Proverb 21||☐|
|Wednesday: Proverb 19||☐||Saturday: Proverb 22||☐|
Bible Column & Reading Plan by Rev. Chang Soo Lee
Mississauga Camps Lead Pastor