For the most part, classical music is a realm of closed-off mystery to me. I cannot understand it or appreciate it. A Local Preacher in my first circuit tried to educate me with the beauties of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, and while I did indeed think it was beautiful and even bought a CD of it, Wolfgang Amadeus didn’t open the doors of heaven for me.
Nor did a girlfriend who loved classical music. When I tried to show an interest and started to like some baroque music, she scorned that style because it wasn’t as demanding as her beloved Sibelius. I tried him too, but beyond Finlandia it all washed over me.
Yet there are other areas of life which I enjoy but which remain a strange land to others. Cricket, for example. To me it is the sport of heaven, especially in the glory of its full five-day Test Match version. Innovations like Twenty Twenty are to me a dumbing down into crash bang wallop territory that lose the subtlety of the game in its fullest expression.
What is the difference? When it comes to classical music, I have never truly learned an instrument or had a mentor. But with cricket, I had a mentor and I used to play. As a child, I watched my father play every time his club team had a home fixture in the summer. I picked up the bug from him. When I started to play, he would take me over the park and place a ten pence piece on the ground to show the exact place where I as a bowler should pitch the ball. When I was slightly older, he took me with him to winter nets practice with his club. Only as an adult did he tell me that the batsmen couldn’t read my Chinaman. If only I’d known that as a teenager, I would have developed as a spinner, not a seamer.
And yes, I realise that the last couple of sentences are gobbledygook to some of you.
What about wisdom, though? What if wisdom is – as I said in the all-age service a fortnight ago – the ability to live well for God? Is that not something we all desire? Yet do we not struggle with it? Is the competence to live for God’s glory a mystery to some of us? Could we not do with a mentor to help us play?
Step forward Lady Wisdom herself. In Proverbs chapter eight she presents her CV for guiding people in the way of wisdom. Is she someone you would take on? Let’s compare the way things are with what she can offer. Of course, this being an ancient document her CV won’t tally exactly with how we write them today, but we do see how she presents herself as qualified for the position.
Firstly, Lady Wisdom offers her skills to everyone. Imagine the dilemma like this. Could it be that the average person is short on wisdom, lacking in the ways to live a life that pleases God? Could it be that many a typical Christian earnestly longs to please God but struggles to do so? And might it also be that the same typical Christian thinks, “I can’t be wise, because I don’t have the theological education or the special gifts that others do”? If so, we face a situation where those who would love to be wise in the biblical sense feel unable to meet their good and godly aspirations.
I wonder whether that is how you feel at times. Do you long to please Christ, yet regard yourself as some kind of second-class Christian?
If you do, Lady Wisdom has something on her CV for you. She is everywhere, and therefore available to everyone. She calls out at the meeting of the paths and at the entrance to the city (verses 2-3). She calls out to ‘all humanity’ (verse 4), including the ‘simple’ and the ‘foolish’ (verse 5). Lady Wisdom’s special attributes are not for the élite but for all. Why? Because they are not about cleverness, talent or charisma. Lady Wisdom empowers all and sundry to live for God’s pleasure. She doesn’t require you to gain alphabet soup after your name, she only requires a heart of obedience and a willingness to depend on God’s Spirit.
Secondly, consider some of the reasons we as Christians feel uncomfortable with the values and priorities of our society. An emphasis on wealth and possessions. An undue attachment to celebrity. Lies, deception and spin. Do we not get frustrated and disheartened by the shallow and tawdry things that capture the imagination of our world?
Lady Wisdom says, I bring qualities of true value. If you want something truly precious, she says, I have it, and I can give it to you. Her words are ‘trustworthy’ (verse 6), ‘true’ (verse 7), ‘just’ (verse 8), ‘right’ (verse 9) and more valuable than silver, gold or rubies (verses 10-11).
She says we can have a choice between a culture that is tone deaf to goodness and one that rejoices in her pure and beautiful teaching. Which do we want?
Thirdly, Lady Wisdom invites us to think about the civil and social order and imagine what it could be like. Christians are not immune to the popular perception of politicians as only being in their profession for the amount of gravy they find on the train. We are used to viewing them as having their fingers in the trough and their ducks in the moat.
And of course in the wider public culture we have the corruption of journalism. We await Lord Leveson’s report into the role of the press and the police in the phone-hacking scandals.
However much we also know that in truth there are many decent politicians, journalists and police officers, it’s hard to evade the conclusion that smell of rotting vegetables in our public life.
That is where Lady Wisdom offers her gifts again. Verses 12 to 16 centre on the place of wisdom in public life. Wisdom brings prudence, knowledge and discretion to the public square (verse 12) and evicts evil, pride, arrogance and perverse speech (verse 13). Instead, she says,
Counsel and sound judgment are mine;
I have insight, I have power.
By me kings reign
and rulers issue decrees that are just;
by me princes govern,
and nobles – all who rule on earth. (Verses 14-16)
It’s a common thread from the ancient world, applied here in terms of Israel’s God:
In the ancient Near East, kings ruled, judged, waged war, protected the weak, and gave laws by means of the authority and gifts of the gods. They mediated divine blessings to the people and ensured peace and prosperity.
I’m not simply saying we should always vote for Christian politicians, but I am saying this: Lady Wisdom invites us to dream of a different social and political order from the one we have.
Fourthly, and related to this, do we not also dream of a society where righteousness and justice are rewarded? Goodness is sometimes rewarded in our culture, but we also witness the way the unrighteous gather power for their own benefit and use it against others. If the allegations about the late Jimmy Savile are true – and the Met Police seem to be talking as if there is clear evidence – then we have a case of someone who garnered fame and fortune and then used his power base and his connections with those in authority to carry out and cover up great wickedness.
It is Lady Wisdom who says that a society which rewards goodness is possible. When wisdom is exalted, truth, righteousness and justice receive their reward. It is not celebrities and entertainers who flourish; rather, it is the wise, who walk in the ways of God, are recognised. Verses 17 to 21 describe a place where wisdom receives riches and honour. Surely we long for a world like that.
Fifthly, let me suggest that we long for a world that needs more than science as an explanation. Science cannot tell us whether anything has a purpose. It can only analyse cause and effect. The trouble is, we have people so committed to science as the answer to everything that they speak about a world that is only explained by cause and effect. They rule out any sense of purpose. The logical end product of this is the claim of Richard Dawkins that the universe displays what he calls ‘pitiless indifference’. It is a cold, purposeless, pointless place.
I am not denigrating science. I am saying it cannot explain everything. It is one important discipline among many. And although the ancients did not conceive of science in the way we do, in our passage Lady Wisdom alerts us to the fact that there is purpose in the universe. We see this from the extended description of Wisdom as having been present before all things in verses 22 to 31 (‘given birth’ in the NIV may be misleading). Not only that, wisdom was involved in creation itself. It is a rich passage that I cannot examine in detail this morning. But if the wisdom of God was present before all things and involved in creation, then we have a guarantee that God baked purpose into the universe.
So – is this what you want? Do you reject a world where only the élite are candidates for wisdom and long instead for a world where wisdom is open to all who wish to live well for God? Do you despair of a culture that values vacuous celebrity and long instead for one where wisdom is prized? Are you sick of the corruption of the powerful and pray for a society where wisdom rules with justice? Are you fed up with a world where the influential use power for themselves and earnestly desire instead a place where goodness is rewarded? And do you say ‘no’ to those who insist on describing life as meaningless, mocking those who disagree as stupid, because you know deep down there is purpose ingrained into life?
And if this is what you want, then what to do? The concluding five verses of this chapter urge us to get familiar with wisdom, the wisdom of God. Ultimately in New Testament terms that means Jesus Christ. What we need to do is embrace the teaching of Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit. It is Jesus, God’s true wisdom, who turns the values of our world around. His is what one author called ‘The Upside-Down Kingdom.’ He reverses the priorities of this world. He is ‘making all things new.’
To follow God’s wisdom in Jesus will likely never win a majority at the ballot box. It will not be widely popular, except in versions so diluted they lose their power. We are likely to be a minority, operating at the margins of society rather than in the corridors of power.
How, then, can this change the world? It’s a curious thing, but often the most powerful social movements are those who which are minorities operating on the margins. Jesus certainly works this way.
Does anybody want to start a revolution?
 Raymond van Leeuwen describes verses 6-21 as ‘Wisdom’s self-presentation. Self-praise seems strange to Westerners today, for whom it seems immodest and naïve. But the function of such speech is like a modern résumé, in which people present their qualifications for such a position.’ (New Interpreter’s Bible Volume V, p90.)
 op. cit., p91.
 op. cit., p92.
Today in our church service we explored the three Creeds of our faith: Nicene, St Athanasius and the Apostles. Although our minister conceded we rarely recite the Athanasius Creed (really a Declaration). And our second hymn was Charles Wesley’s Jesus, lover of my soul. A favourite of our congregation. I think Lady Wisdom would have been pleased!