Is Proverbs 3:5-7 about Mysticism?

Often, I have heard Proverbs 3:5-7 brought up in discussions about decision making. Before I move any further, have a read:

Pro 3:5-7 ESV Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  (6)  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  (7)  Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.

The idea is often that somebody who is attempting to use discernment to make a major life decision should wait for God to literally tell them what to do. Otherwise, they might use their discernment (their own understanding), and dishonor God. But, is that what this verse is teaching? Is Solomon advocating listening for God to give us personal advice about our future?

What is the evidence in the text itself? Here is all of Proverbs 3:

Pro 3:1-35 ESV My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments,  (2)  for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.  (3)  Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.  (4)  So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.

(5)  Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  (6)  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  (7)  Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.  (8)  It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.  (9)  Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce;  (10)  then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

(11)  My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof,  (12)  for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.  (13)  Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding,  (14)  for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.  (15)  She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.  (16)  Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.  (17)  Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.  (18)  She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.  (19)  The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens;  (20)  by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew.

(21)  My son, do not lose sight of these— keep sound wisdom and discretion,  (22)  and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck.  (23)  Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble.  (24)  If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.  (25)  Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes,  (26)  for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.  (27)  Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.  (28)  Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.  (29)  Do not plan evil against your neighbor, who dwells trustingly beside you.  (30)  Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm.  (31)  Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways,  (32)  for the devious person is an abomination to the LORD, but the upright are in his confidence.  (33)  The LORD’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous.  (34)  Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.  (35)  The wise will inherit honor, but fools get disgrace.

It appears in this context, that trusting in the Lord is directly related to three ideas:

  1. Solomon’s commandments to his son (the teachings of the whole book of Proverbs, but most immediately those in the following paragraphs)
  2. Steadfast love and faithfulness (adherence to the Mosaic Covenant), thus “turning away from evil.” Do note, that the practice of tithing in order to ensure the economic success of the whole society and thus yourself is directly referenced.
  3. Gaining wisdom as so that one is no longer trapped in the impetuous and simpleminded approach to life that corresponds to youth in the book of Proverbs.

In other words the concept of “leaning not on your own understanding” means basing your life on the advice of the wise, on what God has revealed in Scripture, and on a mature perspective once you have gained wisdom.

I have no doubt that God can speak directly to people about things. God is omnipotent. On the other hand, when interpreting Scripture, one should try to do it in context. Proverbs 3:5-7 is not a command to rely upon direct mystical revelation from God. It is, instead, a command to base one’s life on wisdom when your own preferences and passions lead you in the opposite direction of truth and goodness.

In many ways, the interpretation often supplied for this verse may actually be the opposite of what it means. When we wait for a “private revelation from God” we often wait for a deep emotional or intuitive impression. The problem is that it is really easy to use confirmation bias in such situations and then blame extremely foolish decisions upon God.

Christianese: Do something so wild it will only succeed with God’s help

A common idea in Christian circles is that young Christians should invest themselves in doing outrageous things for Christ.

I submit that a better idea is contained within Matthew 10:16:

Beware, I am sending you out as sheep amongst wolves, therefore be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves.

Jesus, while sending his disciples on a particular mission that could, by certain modern reckoning, be considered an “outrageous thing for Christ” told his disciples to be cunning or clever.

The passage is not a direct command to all Christians, but rather Jesus’ instructions for a specific mission. But, in the grand scheme of Matthews gospel, it seems directly applicable to Christians today. What does Jesus mean by “be as cunning as serpents”?

I suspect that the traits of wisdom in the four gospels and Proverbs are what Jesus has in mind (ESV used below):

  1. Conversational Prowess
    Pro 16:23-24 ESV  The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips.  (24)  Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
  2. Discernment of Human Character
    1. Pro 26:4-5  Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.  (5)  Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
    2. Joh 2:24-25  But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people  (25)  and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
  3. Foresight (to stay out of trouble when possible)
    1. Pro 4:25-26  Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.  (26)  Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.
    2. Pro 6:6-8  Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.  (7)  Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,  (8)  she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.
  4. Discernment Between Right and Wrong
    1. Pro 3:5-7  Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  (6)  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  (7)  Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
    2. Luk 12:56-59  You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? (57)  “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? (58)  As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. (59)  I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”

Good reasons exist to see the meaning of this passage as a call to be thoughtful about our discipleship. Indeed, one might say that Matthew included it so that growth in wisdom would be seen as a part of daily Christianity because it was required of the earliest preachers of the gospel during their time under Jesus’ tutelage. Such a point seems too obvious to drive home, but a great deal of young people have heard that caution and wisdom should be tossed to the wind in obedience to Christ. In fact, I have received resistance from people when trying to encourage them to be wise as though I were encouraging them not to follow Christ.

Anyway, we could reconfigure the saying in the title this way:

Do put Jesus’ teachings into practice in a way that is thoughtful and pray for his help.”

Relationships and Identity

There is an idea that has developed in our culture that you and I can define ourselves precisely as we wish to and that so-doing is indeed the only path to happiness and human fulfillment in general. Charles Taylor described this outlook decades ago:

“There is a certain way of being human that is my way. I am called upon to live my life in this way, and not in imitation of anyone else’s. But this gives a new importance to being true to myself. If am not, I miss the point of my life, I miss what being human is for me…Not only should I not fit my life to the demands of external conformity; I can’t even find the model to live by outside myself. I can find it only within…Being true to myself means being true to my own originality, and that is something only I can articulate and discover. In articulating it, I am also defining myself.” Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, 29.

The problem with this notion is that it is stupid.

You and I are, whoever we happen to be are some combination of the following:

  1. Children of some parent (even a hypothetical child created in a lab would DNA that came from someone)
  2. Inheritors of some culture
  3. Students of some teacher
  4. Adherents of some code
  5. Members of some group
  6. Citizens of some nation
  7. Speakers of some language
  8. Possessors of some body

The list goes on. These things do not, perhaps, exhaust personal identity, but they certainly do contribute to it. I would guess that learning to fulfill such roles with duty might lead to honest delight in the cases of many people.

Anyway, a great deal of people seem to think that these very relationships keep them from being who they are. I submit that these relationships are what make us who we are.

End of thoughts.

George Herbert and Mark 8:35

We often associate Jesus’ word in Mark 8:35 with martyrdom. The reason for this, in context, is obvious:

Mar 8:34-37 ESV And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (35)  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (36)  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (37)  For what can a man give in return for his soul?

I suggest that neither Jesus nor the early disciples treated literally dying for the gospel as a necessary consequence of discipleship. In fact, later in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is clear that with the possibility of persecutions in this life, so also there could be several elements traditionally associated with the good life in this life (also, the elements of the good life will be certain in the age to come):

Mar 10:29-31  Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, (30)  who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (31)  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

The point being that losing ones life, in Mark 8:35, is not necessarily the same thing as literally dying. It would seem that it is a commitment to a form of personal transformation under Jesus’ tutelage. I think that George Herbert captures this concept quite well in his poem Clasping of Hands.

Clasping of Hands

LORD, thou art mine, and I am thine,
If mine I am: and thine much more,
Than I or ought, or can be mine.
Yet to be thine, doth me restore;
So that again I now am mine,
And with advantage mine the more.
Since this being mine, brings with it thine,
And thou with me dost thee restore.
If I without thee would be mine,
I neither should be mine nor thine.

Lord, I am thine, and thou art mine:
So mine thou art, that something more
I may presume thee mine, then thine
For thou didst suffer to restore
Not thee, but me, and to be mine:
And with advantage mine the more,
Since thou in death wast none of thine,
Yet then as mine didst me restore.
O be mine still! still make me thine;
Or rather make no Thine and Mine!

George Herbert, The Works of George Herbert (London: George Routledge & Co., 1854), 165.

Herbert essentially captures that learning to be possessed of God is precisely to come to oneself as well. Jesus makes this same claim in the parable of the prodigal son. His repentance is described as, “coming to himself” (Luke 15:17). In losing oneself, one comes to knowledge of God. Similarly, in coming to knowledge of God, one comes to true self-ownership.

Music Monday: Wednesday Edition Televators

When I was younger, I would go fishing until very late at night. Often, I would listen to the The Mars Volta as I reflected on various philosophic and theological topics. It just made sense to listen to this band when it was dark and when the moon and some distant lights were dancing on the water. This is one of their few songs that sounds peaceful.

I don’t have many reflections upon the song. It is simply eery and entrancing. I hope you enjoy it.

Science and Terminology

So, the word science is one of the most abused terms in modern discourse.

I have heard the word science being used to refer to:

  1. Nature (Look at all the science…when it’s actually a mountain or the sky being looked at)
  2. Technology (this kind of makes sense but it isn’t the same)
  3. Mathematics (this baffles me)
  4. The views of scientists about anything in particular
  5. The process of doing lab work (this is only referred to as science very rarely and when it is done, it is in a sort of idealized sense)
  6. The findings of a particular science experiment or meta-analysis (journalists all the time)
  7. The lay of a land in a particular field
  8. The word “biology” is sometimes used to refer the physical processes in a living being.
  9. Moral Positions (Sam Harris)
  10. Philosophical Positions (Richard Dawkins)
  11. Religious commitments (certain Christian apologists)
  12. Political positions  (lots of politicians)
  13. Pictures of outer space (every meme on The Facebook)
  14. Facts about nature (The ocean is deep, I love science!)
  15. Speculation about galactic civilization (not kidding here)
  16. Any actual knowledge (people who say, “We can only know things via science…then collapse things they know by other means into science)

Words have plastic meaning, that’s fine. But what often happens in disagreement is that people will use one of these many meanings and then default back to meaning sixteen.

John’s Gospel and The Word Which was In the Beginning

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 ESV)

This verse is usually brought up with reference to the high Christology of John’s gospel, the Genesis background, or the philosophical background of λογος. These are all legitimate. But what intrigues me is that this verse was written after the gospel of Jesus was being preached and after the stories contained within John’s gospel were already in circulation. But so then were the stories of the synoptic gospels as well as the moral teachings of Jesus which we find in the Sermon on the Mount.

If the stories of John’s gospel were in circulation, then the idea that Jesus’ words were life were circulating about. Similarly, we know from Paul’s letters that the gospel message itself was often referred as “the word of [insert synechdoche for Christ here].” The point being that one of the important background factors in John 1:1-18 is the background of the gospel message and the language about it.

If this is true, then part of the idea in John 1:1 is that the gospel message about Christ is reflective of God’s ideas from the very beginning. Similarly, it is reflective of the idea that the words of Christ then in circulation were superlatively the word of God. What this means in the context of the canon of Scripture is that the message of the four gospels is God’s word in a very special way because they are about the person of the Word of God in human flesh.

Made a List

I made a list when I was 17 of everything intended to do in my twenties.

  1. Get B.S. in computer programming and minor in Greek.
  2. Go to Seminary
  3. Learn Hebrew
  4. Get PhD. in New Testament studies
  5. Finish Black Belt in Isshin-Ryu Karate
  6. Write commentary on Sermon on the Mount
  7. Learn Latin
  8. Squat 400 Pounds
  9. Bench 300 Pounds
  10. Dead Lift 450
  11. Read the Summa Theologica (I had a catholic friend my senior year of high school)

I did one of those and half of three of them.

Anyway, kids, plan your life better.

Jesus and Being a Bit Judgy

Here is an excerpt from a sermon I preached on Matthew 7:1-5 about two years ago. Jim West reminded me of it.

Jesus and Judgment
Priorities for a loving and challenging community:

Stop judging, so that you won’t be judged, because the way that you judge others will be the way that you will be judged, and you will be evaluated by the standard with which you evaluate others. “Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye but fail to notice the beam in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when the beam is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5 Author’s Translation)”

These words are spoken by the man who just earlier taught that he would see to it that all who heard him would receive mercy, see God, be filled with righteousness, and so-on (Matthew 5:3-10). What he is giving here is not merely sound moral advice for wise living, though it is that. What Jesus is teaching us here is how to live as sinners with a gracious God in a world full of people just like us.

What it does not mean:

  1. Do not judge anybody ever, no matter what, under any circumstances, do not ever even think about ever judging anybody about anything no matter what, under any circumstances, without ever considering the possibility of judging an action or a person.
  2. Never call bad things bad.
  3. That as long as I’ve corrected my own faults I can make whatever harsh judgments I want upon others. (I have a good diet, so, “Hey, stop eating like a whale.”)

What it seems to mean:

  1. Do not become a judge of others who is unaware of your own character flaws.
  2. It means that making a habit of condemning others or correcting them when you do not have a habit of correcting yourself or receiving correction leads to judgment.
  3. When it is okay to judge, the context shows that the comments made are not meant to be legal verdicts, but helpful comments which lead to correction (as the analogy to eye surgery makes clear). Different cultures and social groups tolerate different levels of harshness.
  4. Character flaws include we should correct in ourselves include: lack of forgiveness, lack of kindness, nosiness, prayerlessness, and gossip. Because of this, learning the appropriate time to judge others (make a judgment for the sake of correction) means dealing with your own obvious sins, but also dealing with your less obvious ones which make judging others so satisfying.
  5. The judging you can do takes place in the context of encouraging others to grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18).
  6. That people might not be able to receive a helpful correction from somebody whose life is a wreck.
  7. That the attitude necessary to help somebody else requires the humility of knowing your own flaws and the experience of God’s transforming grace.

Other passages of Scripture with this in mind: Proverbs 3:5-7, 1 Thessalonians 5:14 and 21, and Hebrews 3:13-14 and 10:24-25.