O Wisdom

O Wisdom, you came forth from the lips of God Most High
and you reach from one end of the universe to the other,
powerfully and gently ordering all things…

ancient

Come and teach us the way of Prudence!
______________________________________________________________________________

A few years back a member of the church I serve asked each of its ministers about their favorite Bible verse. We were in a “Year of the Bible” at that church, at that time.  We were thinking and talking together most Sunday mornings about what it means to be Bible-Centered people.  We were using Bobby Clinton’s materials (http://bobbyclinton.com) and his categories of having a personal “core” of Biblical books and passages as an important part of our own unique spiritual foundation.  We were all consciously thinking about which Psalms, Parables, Proverbs, Prophets, Gospels, and Epistles were our favorites, and which verses were our standards.  And so it was not unusual to have a church member inquire about which Biblical texts were foundational to our own sense of identity and mission as a pastoral team.  What was unexpected were the beautifully printed and framed Bible verses that each one of us soon had hanging outside our office doors.  Mine was Romans 8:28 –

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him,
who are called according to his purpose.

Like so many Christians I know, this verse has been a source of great comfort and real confidence for me from the earliest days of my Christian life. John Stott said that Romans 8:28 is the pillow upon which the head of faith sleeps, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones taught that Romans chapter 8 was the Bible’s greatest chapter on the assurance of a believer, and that verse 28 is the very pinnacle of its affirmations. I know that this is how the teachings of Romans 8 in general, and the promise of verse 28 in particular have functioned for me. They have been the source of my peace and consolation on my most difficult days.

godIn the tangle of the circumstances of our lives, in the confusing swirl of current events, and in the daily challenges to our own sense of personal balance and well-being, it is reassuring to know that a God who loves us is really there, and that He has a purpose for us, and for all of creation, that will not ultimately be thwarted. For some background on how any thinking person could actually hold this conviction in light of the mess that the world is in, I would strongly recommend that you go back to my November 7, 2016, “Soundings”God Reigns, and the Government at Washington Still Lives! – where I discussed Leslie Weatherhead’s three perspectives on the Will of God.

The first “O” Antiphon on our journey to Christmas is a petition for God’s Wisdom that reaches “from one end of the universe to the other,” and that “powerfully and gently orders all things,” to come and teach us “the way of prudence.”

eyeThe spiritual practice of praying these seven antiphons during Advent in the days leading up to Christmas is a way for us to better understand the significance of the Christ who comes to us as Bethlehem’s little baby, and as a way of more directly connecting God’s saving act in Christ with the deepest fears and highest hopes of our human hearts. What this first Antiphon tells us is that Jesus Christ is God’s Wisdom, and that our acceptance of Him will be experienced by us as prudence.

That Christ is the Wisdom of God is something that the New Testament explicitly affirms. In I Corinthians chapter 1, the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that Christ was the “Power and the Wisdom of God” (1:24).  A mixed Greek/Gentile and Jewish congregation, Paul knew that some of the Corinthians, those with the Greek backgrounds, would look on Christ’s cross as utter “foolishness,” while the other Corinthians, those with the Jewish backgrounds, would look on Christ’s cross as sheer “weakness.” And so Paul opened his first letter to them by making it very clear that it’s what Christ did on that seemingly weak and foolish cross that is the wise and powerful act that saves us.

…When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.  For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (2:1-5)

…We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are being saved, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.   (1:22-24).

The cross of Christ is the proof that God can squeeze meaning out of the most twisted of experiences, and purpose out of the most mangled of circumstances.   To be sure, God’s wisdom doesn’t mean that everything’s just fine right now, perfectly reflective of what God has always wanted for us and the world.  If this were so, why would Christ have taught us to pray: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? No, what God’s wisdom assures us of is that God is redemptively at work in Christ right now making sure that when everything is said and done that – “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” – as Julian of Norwich saw it. This is the sure perspective of God’s Wisdom.

John Piper says that “wisdom” in the Bible “is knowing the greatest goal in any situation, and the best way to achieve that goal,” or as Charles Ryrie put it, “the wisdom of God tells us that God will bring about the best possible results, by the best possible means, for the most possible people, for the longest possible time.” This is the theology behind the affirmation of Romans 8:28.   It is the belief that the Wisdom of God is present and active in our lives and in our world in very real but often hidden ways, just as the Wisdom of God was present and active in the world at the birth of that helpless little baby in Bethlehem’s manger, but missed by so many.

handsIn chapel each week with the kids in the day school we sing “He’s got the Whole World in His Hands,” and this is one of my core assurances as a believer.  I believe that God is at work in every moment, and that God is present in every circumstance of my life and in the life of the world, “powerfully and gently ordering all things” by His wisdom. As A.W. Tozer observed, “to actively believe that our Heavenly Father constantly spreads around us providential circumstances that work for our present good and our everlasting well-being brings to the soul a veritable benediction.” (Thanks to Lloyd Stilley @ http://www.lifeway.com/Article/sermon-wisdom-god-romans-16-1-corinthians-1 for the Piper, Ryrie and Tozer quotes).

This “veritable benediction” is the “peace that passes understanding” of Philippians 4:7.  It is not the denial of reality, but rather it is the conviction that God is at work in that reality, gradually bringing about His good and loving purposes.  It’s a matter of trusting that God in Christ has already been wherever we are, and that God in Christ has already faced whatever it is that we are facing, and that He has come through the crucifixion of it all to the resurrection on the other side.  This is the Wisdom that Christ supplies.  It is knowing that it ends well, and it is believing in this Wisdom of God, according to the first “O” Antiphon, that issues in the virtue of prudence.

Someone has said that prudence is a simple matter of taking an umbrella with you when it looks like it’s going to rain. A more formal definition of prudence says that it is “the intellectual virtue which rightly directs particular human acts, through rectitude of the appetite, toward a good end.” Allow me to translate – prudence is our capacity as human beings to order our lives and to direct our actions in the interest of the larger goals that we have determined to be good and meaningful for us

Prudence is what makes diets work. When we decide that being healthy is of primary importance to us, then we cut out sweets, cut back on carbs, and start to exercise better control on our portion sizes.  Prudence is what gets people out of debt.  When we decide that too many of our resources are tied up in interest payments, then we begin to restrain our expenditures so that we can direct more of what we have to the reduction of the principal. Prudence is what gets people through school.  When we understand that getting that degree is the key that unlocks the doors to our futures, then we throw ourselves into the process of getting the education that winds up with a diploma being put into our hands.

Prudence means acting on what we know to be good, and right, and true. And in the first “O” Antiphon, it’s when we know that God’s Wisdom is “reaching from one end of the universe to the other, powerfully and gently ordering all things,” that we have the opportunity of faith to begin to practice the kind of prudence that encourages us to act like God is really there and that He is fully at work in our lives, and in the life of the world, bending it in the direction of His final purpose of good for all. Fr. Louis Evely in his book Our Prayer (Herder & Herder 1970) perfectly expressed the prudence of God’s Wisdom in our lives with his observation that “whatever we do… is an occasion for a grace, a proposal, a call from God, a call to believe, and love, whatever happens” (65).

This is what I want for Christmas, and so now I am praying –

cubO Wisdom, you came forth from the lips of God Most High
and you reach from one end of the universe to the other,
powerfully and gently ordering all things…
Come and teach us the way of Prudence! 

DBS +

          

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