We’re going to spend a few weeks here and there over the summer looking into the part of the Bible known as ‘wisdom’ literature. That generally includes the book of Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, the Psalms, and today we start with Proverbs.[audio http://www.buzzsprout.com/33052/277086-scary-kind-of-god.mp3]
The book of Proverbs might also be called, “Book of Common Sense” because that is what the Proverbs do. The gospel writers tell us the Jesus story. The Apostle Paul gets into deep and mysterious theological concepts in his writings to churches. Wisdom literature doesn’t work that way.
In the first place, a lot of the wisdom literature is written in poetic fashion. From what I can tell most poetry is descriptive by way of metaphor, not a literal explanation of what something is like. This is certainly true for Proverbs.
In the second place, the purpose of wisdom literature is just that, imparting wisdom. The older you get the more you know (and the more you forget) and the more wisdom you have. Experience is an effective, if not always kind, teacher. Am I right? Wisdom literature tries to impart the lessons learned from experience to others.
One of the fun things about Proverbs is that the writing in Proverbs is a pretty good source for Bible misquotes. This is a topic we touched on a while back but Bible misquoting is something to pay attention to. It can go from the mundane, mildly amusing misquotes in social media or it can be a little more serious like I heard while sitting in the legislative gallery at the capitol earlier this week.
Have you ever heard, “Spare the rod, spoil the child”? That sounds quite Biblical, doesn’t it? The truth is, it was written Samuel Butler, a 17th century British poet, who coined the phrase “spare the rod and spoil the child” in his satirical poem that he wrote. It could be a paraphrase of Proverbs 13:24, “Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them” but as it stands the statement doesn’t really exist in any translation of the Bible.
How about “Pride goeth before the fall”? This phrase often attributed to the Bible is almost correct. The actual verse, found in Proverbs 16:18, actually reads: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
You get the point. Proverbs are often times just common sense kinds of things which makes it easy for things that sound like common sense came from the Bible. Not so much and we need to be careful with what we’re reading.
We need to be careful with what we’re reading because the actual message of the Bible can get all twisted around and distorted if we’re not careful. Christ, and the followers of Christ, get misrepresented enough in today’s world without any help from us misrepresenting ourselves or what the Bible actually says.
One of those misreprentations is that God is mean and scary and therefore we should be afraid of God. Anyone of a certain age learned well in confirmation the proper preamble responding to ‘What does this mean?” Every response to being questioned on the catechism begins with, “We are to fear and love God”, right? And why not, Proverbs tells us that we should, in verse 7: 7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
The why not is this. For centuries we’ve been told to fear a scary kind of God and we missed out on a lot of the loving God part. In our focus on being afraid of a scary kind of God we missed out on how much God loves us. I suspect that this focus had its beginnings in church leaders trying to keep people in control. If you have a population of people that can’t read and you can you can keep them in control with certain Bible verses threatening them with a scary kind of God, well then, that works out pretty easily. Even today we still say and hear things like, “I’m going to put the fear of God into that kid.” Is that a positive kind of thing? How often have you heard, “I’m going to put the love of God into that kid?” The world would be a better place if we did more of the latter, don’t you think?
We should fear and love God but not in a scary God kind of way. We should respect God, we should pay attention to what God says and we should be grateful for God being in our lives. We should love God. Because God loves us and not in a scary kind of God way.
Because God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Because God comes to us and surrounds us in the Holy Spirit.
C.S. Lewis captured the nature of God pretty well in the Chronicles of Narnia. The children featured in the book are chatting with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver about Aslan, the lion. Aslan is the character that represents Jesus and one of the children, Susan, expresses a bit of fear about meeting Aslan when she finds out he is a lion. Susan wonders if Aslan is safe. Mr. Beaver explains to her, “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
It’s fair to say that God, who created the universe and all that is in it, isn’t safe. But God is indeed good. And not in a scary God kind of way.