Chapter 7: Reading Israel's Wisdom Again
Wisdom: Past, Present and Future


Context is everything. This pithy statement has become something of a proverb in my effort to interpret Scripture. Not only is the original context of the Scriptural writer essential but the reader's contemporary context completes the interpretive circle, making the Word vibrant and fresh.

The text has a past, present and a future tucked just below its literal surface. Marcus Borg's chapter on Wisdom summarizes the historic and theological context of the Biblical Wisdom literature. I would like to share my experience with these texts, how it has provided guidance in understanding of my vocation and how they might enable modern readers to appreciate how Wisdom might encounter them.

Context of Creation

My introduction to Wisdom literature came thirty years ago while studying under James Houston at Regent College. Surrounded by the mountains and verdant flora of Vancouver ,Wisdom literature and Creation Spirituality seemed obvious partners. In this setting Wisdom's earthiness and everydayness became apparent. Wisdom sages meditated on nature and derived many of their moral principles on the life of leech, lions, cronies and ants (Prov.30). Creation slowed us down enough to contemplate and observe the analogies between nature and human life. Slowly we learned that whatever Wisdom was it was not just cerebral or based on principle. It was experiential and rooted in what has been seen by many communities throughout history.

Context of Vocation

After several years of working as a pastoral counsellor in an inner city context I found myself frustrated in my attempts to find a model of ministry that made sense of what I was seeing in those I met daily. I needed to work with the therapeutic assumptions of others working with those I encountered. On the religious side there were those who used only redemptive language, spiritual talk that in many psychiatric patients only complicated matters. Based almost exclusively on precept these counsellors neglected the emotional and existential situations of their clients. From my perspective they were coercive and their revelational thundering seems too dogmatic to be of use.

On the other hand I didn't see that the clinical non-religious approaches worked any better. That approach seemed more like maintenance than therapy and sedating patients while controlling negative behaviour didn't lead to human flourishing. The success rate given that goal was dismal.

Wisdom sages ("hakim") offered an alternative that provided structure (Proverbs), an acknowledgment of suffering (Job) and a practical sense of reality from (Ecclesiastes). The Hebrew sages did not emphasize revelation as much as they did observation; they worked in tandem with others of different world views such as the Egyptian sages. This insight invited me to adopt their inclusive approach. William Glasser's Reality Therapy seemed to correspond well with the behavioural structuring of Proverbs whereas Rollo May's Existential Therapy suited the Job approach the fully acknowledge suffering and emotions. Victor Frankl seemed a likely dialogue partner to Quohelth the writer of Ecclesiastes. Frankl's full acknowledgement of the apparent absence of God, the dark night of the soul found empathy in the apparent skeptical texts of Ecclesiastes.

The wisdom model of ministry provided me with a renewed view of vocation. I came to believe that I was not a minister (modelled after priest and prophet) but rather a hakim (a fellow observer of life). Throughout the years I developed this model and use the term Anam Cara or Soul Friend to identify those who come alongside as listeners and followers of Wisdom with others.