Currently, I am an active United Methodist. Methodists are fortunate in one respect in that John Wesley, our founder, instructs us to ask the question, “Does this make sense or is it right?” We get to throw out all sorts of silly doctrine by saying it is just that—nonsensical silly doctrine.
Today I want to talk about the Bible as a book of wisdom. Some people like to use the Bible as a history book or a science book. This approach doesn’t pass Wesley’s fourth test of rightness or sense. It doesn’t work as a historical or scientific text because it conflicts with too much of what we know in those fields. I’ve often suspected, in a half-jealous manner, that those who use the Bible as a history or science text get away with a lower quality of behavior than those who look at the book as the collective wisdom of humankind.
Within theological circles there exists a very legitimate faction that looks as the Bible as a story of wisdom. Many of the books are blatantly wisdom literature especially the much loved books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
When the Bible is regarded as the collective wisdom of the Israelite, Persian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman peoples, it becomes a rich tapestry of stories about life and love. We learn how to live in community. We learn how to deal with adversity. We learn about civil disobedience and when it is necessary. One of the most beautiful stories is about Queen Esther and her act of civil disobedience that saved her people.
The Song of Songs is a beautiful chapter about passion between a man and a woman. We have a whole chapter devoted to love and sex. If the reader can, drag their thoughts away from the breasts, staff and loins in the chapter, I think it tells us a great deal about our relationship to each other, to our communities and to the calling of the wisdom. In short, it tells us that humankind is all too likely to drag wisdom into the alley and beat the crap out of it. Talk about a story for our political climate!
Justice and love are the constant themes in this amazing book. We can read story after story about those who are imperfect rising to the occasion to save the day. The lesson is that we don’t have to be perfect to act for justice. Over and over again the common person, a prostitute, the second daughter, a young girl, the youngest son, a shepherd, or a tax collector is the person who turns the tide of history. This is the collective wisdom of the centuries. Common people are important. We can make a difference, and we do make a great difference in the larger picture.
Looking at the Bible as a book of wisdom sets us free to love one another, enjoy our communities and to explore the intricacies of our magnificent cosmos.