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But Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?


Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
March 4, 2018

We've learned of the terrible sufferings of Job: how he lost everything he owned; that his children died in a terrible storm; his wife turned against him; his friends are sure he suffered by punishment of God.

In Chapter 28, the Book of Job pauses to reflect: Where shall wisdom be found?
Written in the age of Iron, we hear of all the great scientific advancements of their day: Ore is mined from the earth and smelted into copper. Precious stones and gold are brought forth for wealth. Rivers are explored, their sources discovered deep in the earth. Agriculture has been developed so that wheat and barley are cultivated for bread. The molten core of our planet is even beginning to be understood. None of these early advances in scientific understanding though actually lead to wisdom.
And even with all the technological breakthroughs of our own time, this profound observation still holds true. Knowledge and wisdom are not the same.
Daniel Cooperrider, in our workbook study of Job, created a poem that tries to match the eloquence of Job on this subject for our own age:                     
         "Surely there's a website for buying gold, and one for selling silver--
         There's an unending newsfeed cascading like a waterfall and
         A gathering place where friends from afar flock together
         Boundless information--it's freely shared all around and
         Knowledge is always just one click away.
         So it is that mortals put an end to boredom
         Exploring the furthest recesses of the luminous web
         They linger out the day in places untouched by human feet
         Far from the Natural world they bookmark, hashtag, and skip from tab to    tab.
         Neither bird of prey nor beast of the field knows of this information highway,
         No falcon has Google Earth to zoom in on its prey,
         And the lion has no savannah equivalent of 'street-view.'
         Only people can access its ways and harness its power,
         Streaming videos, liking status updates, trawling for images of talking cats...
         But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell?
As Isaac Asimov declares in our Quiet Meditation:   "The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom."

Why should we pause in the midst of Job's suffering to ask about wisdom? It may seem counter-intuitive to seek out deep understanding when all we can do is barely make it through the days of our suffering. Overwhelming violence and threats of violence come at us from every corner. The sufferings of Job resonate in our own lives as we ponder the tragedies of friends and family in our midst and beyond our doors. I don't need to list them. We are all aware of them. Our prayers are full of pleads for miracles of healing for our loved ones and for our world.

But one of the unique characteristics of being human is the need for meaning in this seemingly random world. When things seem craziest, we are most desperate to discover why. We have been very disappointed by Job's friends' simplistic answers. But still, we search: "Why me?" becomes "Why all of us?" We realize that none of us can escape suffering. This one simple truth compels us to continue searching: Why?

Nearly all my quiet conversations lately have pondered not only the reason for suffering but the meaning of death. (Light weight stuff!) What wisdom can we glean from life's challenges?  What understanding dawns? I've found myself recommending reading Ken Wilber, one of my favorite modern philosophers, to several of my friends. His depth of integrative thinking about life from the birth of stars to the chaotic mysteries of our age, feel just right for those of us searching for wisdom in these difficult    times. He tends to be pretty left-brain but his understanding of all the world religions as well as scientific knowledge make him quite unique. I found this quote used in our Quiet Meditation in a Parabola Magazine on Suffering to be exactly right:
         "A person who is beginning to sense the suffering of life is, at the same time,        beginning to awaken to deeper realities, truer realities. For suffering     smashes to pieces the complacency of our normal fictions about reality and forces us to come alive in a special sense--to see carefully, to feel deeply, to       touch ourselves and our world in ways we have heretofore avoided."
Our Bible has a seemingly simple explanation: "And God said to humankind: 'Truly, awe of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.'"
The Hebrew is translated in our New Revised Standard Version as "fear of the Lord." But Jesus has taught us that "Love casts out fear." And awe invites us into the humility that allows us to grow in our faith and ultimately in our wisdom.
"Humility is endless!" (T.S. Eliot) Only awe of the mystery remains. No answers. No easy explanations. Only wonder, humility, awe. And we will know our wisdom is growing into understanding simply by watching how we live...When we depart from evil...Or as Christianity teaches, when the fruits of the Spirit begin to show in our lives, the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) that are our birthrights as children of God...We'll know that wisdom is growing even as we question, doubt, challenge perhaps, every religious understanding we have ever learned.

Every world religion was founded by one amazingly wise individual who challenged the prevailing wisdom of his time with a deeper and    wider truth. Moses challenged the multiple gods of Middle Eastern theologies to develop a strong monotheism. Buddha challenged the ritualism of 5th C. BCE Hinduism to declare that the sacred dwells within each of us. Jesus challenged the political and economic power structures of Judaism in the 1st C. CE to call Jews back to the essential teachings of their faith ~ that God calls us to love God, and neighbor as we love ourselves. Mohammed challenged the ethnic exclusivity of religions in 6th C. CE. to offer Arabs a faith they could claim with dignity without having to give up their ethnic identity which Western Christianity and Judaism of their day seemed to demand.
But followers in each generation tried to codify what they had learned          from their teacher. Institutional religions have all created rules to follow, hoops to jump through, easy answers to life's dilemmas. They tried to make it easier and clearer to followers of the faith. It is not easy to follow a teacher like Jesus. (or Moses, or Buddha, or Muhammed for that matter). But what makes it difficult is not the list of rules we must learn and live by. It is the essence of humility and awe every faith demands of us. It is learning to live by deep values of compassion and justice, treating each person, whether friend or foe, as a child of God. Wisdom is not knowledge. It is lived experience. It is awe in the face of      mystery. And it is revealed and understood in the lives we live by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Easy for me to say! Living it in these challenging times...that is the work of practicing our faith! May it be so.