I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my favorite comics is Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin, the overly-imaginative boy, goes on adventures with his stuffed tiger who comes to life in his mind. And the comic only has a small list of characters—people that interact with Calvin—but the best one, in my opinion, is his dad.
Calvin’s dad has his son’s complete adoration for his wisdom and expansive knowledge. He teaches Calvin such important life lessons as how shoveling the driveway builds character (sometimes too much character, according to Calvin), how the Southwest is all dried and burnt-looking because that’s where the sun goes down, and black-and-white photos are only that way because the world didn’t have any colors until about the 1960s. In so many ways, Calvin’s dad offers the kind of wisdom that’s the most realistic: the kind you make up as you go. He’s the kind of dad I think dads readily relate to.
But in the best light, fathers do have that kind of cultural role of passing wisdom on to their children, teaching important life lessons, and shaping them to become capable adults. That wisdom gets passed on as “life lessons” that help us see the world in a different way, notice pitfalls before they happen, help us think through difficult situations. We can all probably think of the ways our dads and father figures shaped our understanding of the world and helped us prepare for life’s ups and downs. And all that accumulated advice is what we consider “wisdom.”
The Bible has a lot to say about wisdom. It shows up in stories that teach important lessons that help us grow in our faith. It shows up in songs of praise in the Psalms and the prophets. And wisdom shows up maybe the most obviously in the book of Proverbs, a whole list of wise sayings to help us navigate life. And we read from the book of Proverbs today about wisdom, and what she does to get us to listen.
Biblically, Wisdom is a woman who stands at the gate and the crossroads—two of the places with the heaviest traffic in the ancient world. Everyone would walk by those two locations. She stands at the busiest intersections calling out for people to come and listen and live. She offers her advice freely, and she has a purpose in offering that advice: to give us life. A life guided by wisdom is a life that is full and long and happy. All we have to do, she says, is come and listen to her instructions.
This kind of wisdom stands apart from how some cultures depict wisdom. So much of the time, wisdom seems to be a thing that’s only accessible to people who have time to contemplate, or who have access to secret knowledge, or have means to get the best teachers. But Woman Wisdom isn’t hard to find. She isn’t hard to access, and her lessons aren’t hidden from most people. Instead, she’s at the crossroads. She is where we are, ready to guide whoever wants to learn.
Biblical wisdom also isn’t some kind of esoteric, floating-above-it-all kind of knowledge either. It’s not some ancient philosophy that only wizened old dudes with long white beards get to know about. No, Biblical wisdom is like a dad’s wisdom: practical, immediate, down-to-earth. She gives bits of wisdom to us as deep as “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” (Proverbs 3:5) to as straightforwardly practical as “eat only enough honey for you, or else, having too much, you will vomit it.” (Proverbs 25:16) Even when she speaks deep truths, Wisdom gives them in easily understood ways. And she gives this advice so that we can come and live, as she says.
And part of that living is delighting in the world. Wisdom tells us that she was present with God at the beginning of creation, absolutely joyful in what God was doing and the world God was making. Wisdom rejoiced in the world, delighting in humanity. It’s often so easy to think of wisdom as a stoic, serious thing that we forget there is wisdom in being joyful about the world and celebrating the amazing reality of God’s creation!
Wisdom helps us enter that joy because Wisdom wants us to have life—and our life is found in the life of the Trinity. This Sunday we celebrate the nature of God as three and one, perfect in community, and part of the nature of God is that each Person of the Trinity delights in the others. It’s a joy so complete that the love and delight each Person of the Trinity has for the others spilled over into a whole creation that could receive that joy, because it had to go somewhere. And the whole of salvation history, from the first covenant with Noah to the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai, to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, has been one long invitation to be part of that joyful delight of the Trinity. We’re invited into that joy, and we can get there by following Wisdom’s lead, who rescues us from ignorance and brings us into God’s own life. And Wisdom has such a big part in this because Wisdom is begotten by God.
In fact, for centuries the Church has connected the Old Testament’s Woman Wisdom with the New Testament’s Word of God—which you may recognize as Jesus. Wouldn’t it just make sense that Wisdom, in the way she invites us into the joy of the life of the Trinity by giving us God’s own wisdom, would be the same Person as Jesus, who rescues us into the joy of the life of the Trinity by giving us God’s own grace?
After all, Wisdom is described as having been there before the beginning of the earth—and Jesus tells us that he was loved by the Father before all worlds began. And Wisdom is described as being the master worker who worked with God in constructing the universe, just as it’s said about Jesus that “all things came into being through him.” Jesus is the light of the world, just as Wisdom is the light that guides us to God.
Jesus gives us wisdom. Jesus has spent the last several chapters of the gospel of John offering prayer and advice to his disciples before his departure. But he promises them that they won’t be alone, even after he is physically gone from their presence. He will send the Paraclete—the one who comes alongside and walks with us. The Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth, will teach us and remind us of everything Jesus taught. And when Jesus says the Paraclete will be sent to us, he meant all of us—the whole Christian community. The Spirit of Truth will be found in everyone who trusts in God. Just like how Wisdom stands at the crossroads, the Spirit of Truth will be easy to find and ready to give us wisdom that leads to life.
So listen for the advice of the Spirit. Listening is always the first and most important part of gaining wisdom. Listen to the Spirit speak through our neighbors—our close neighbor, our far neighbor, our white neighbor, our black neighbor, our college-degree-bearing neighbor, our worked-from-fifteen-years-old neighbor, our straight neighbor, our gay neighbor, our rich neighbor, our poor neighbor, and every neighbor who bears the Spirit of Truth in the world. Hear Wisdom speak through them when she tells us what gives life, and when she reminds us to delight in creation, and when she lifts up the importance of wisdom over worldly riches.
God guides us to wisdom by the Spirit of Truth, and she stands at every crossroads, dwells in every gate, announces from every child of God who is her habitation; calling to us to come, sit, learn, delight—and live.
Thanks be to God. Amen.