The Beginning of Wisdom (4): Provisional Conclusions

Last time we were looking at Job’s experience of finding wisdom. At the risk of being repetitious, let me say that as wisdom-seekers ourselves, we must realize that it takes Job a great deal of time and painstaking (not to mention painful) thinking to arrive at the insight that we human beings do not even know where wisdom is.

From the moment he begins his self-defense in Chapter 3, Job assumes continually that he knows what is going on, and that God owes him an explanation. Throughout the discussions with his friends, Job puts the very concept of human wisdom itself on trial. Like Socrates, he wants to be instructed by someone who knows better than himself (6:24). He admits that human concepts of justice cannot contain the Almighty, rendering the human complaint against God nonsensical (9:3, 12-15).

But as his friends’ counsel makes him further despair, Job at last assaults the very legitimacy of human wisdom. On the one hand, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days” (12:12). This would seem to encompass both Job and his three friends, who are older men with much life experience. Yet on the other hand, neither his own nor his friends’ speeches make sense of his suffering, so it seems that “[God] takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth and makes them wander in a pathless waste” (12:24).

Some chapters later we read, starkly, that wisdom “is not found in the land of the living” (28:13), but “is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air” (28:21). And at the last, after God recites for four chapters the plethora of things Job does not know about the world, Job confesses his ignorance: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things to wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:3), and repents in dust and ashes.

What the book of Job shows us about wisdom exhibits not the kind of “simplicity” that uncareful readers who assume a “literal” or “face value” meaning of a text that is easily grasped, but rather a weighty sophistication. The text leads us step-by-painful step to realize that we must not merely read it in some pious “devotional” manner, but go through the quiet, sober, length of time it takes to contemplate it – perhaps going through much misunderstanding, as did Job himself, before we grasp its meaning and find wisdom.

The idea throughout Job is plainly that wisdom for us begins with profound humility in the face of that which we cannot understand and cannot acquire on our own.

Let’s return to where we started, the biblical fact that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” What may we glean from this too short survey? The quality that functions as the gateway to wisdom, “the fear of the Lord,” shows itself in such attitudes as self-abasement in the face of those specially gifted by God with discernment, humility enough to set aside our own claims to knowledge and learn from others, and, maybe most importantly, abjectly refusing to say that we even know where wisdom is (let alone that we have found it), and, each and every day living coram Deo – before the face of God Himself who dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16) but who has, in His gracious condescension to us, united us with Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col.2:3).