This reflection series, “The Impossible Religion,” reveals five specific problems that people have with the gospel of Jesus. These impossibilities arise when Christianity is a religion to achieve, rather than simply the “good news” of grace and redemption that will naturally transform us. Christianity outside of Christ’s redemption is in fact impossible, but with God nothing is impossible. For the next five weeks, we’ll go through Scriptures from five different areas of the Bible in order to confront these impossibilities:
Impossible Standards (Proverbs 31)
Whenever I read the book of Proverbs, I always start pen in hand, intent on underlining “the good parts.” But every time, I quickly realize that to underline “the good parts” would find me underlining the entire book. In 1 Kings we read about the gift of wisdom granted to King Solomon and the proverbs are proof of that gift. The wisdom in the book of Proverbs is unique, different from anything else.
The Proverbs do not necessarily strike us as “impossible” as we read the sayings and feel intrigued, rebuked or encouraged. That comes when we attempt to put these perfect words into practice in our admittedly imperfect lives. The sayings in real-time and real-life swiftly transition from wise words in private to a burden too heavy to bear in public. When faced with the challenges of this world, whether riches, anger, impatience, or pain, we tend to shake off “the good parts” as we indulge in our truly natural “human nature” and err on the side of the sinful flesh.
Throughout the entire book of Proverbs, Wisdom is depicted as a woman. This woman of wisdom cries out to the passing pedestrians on the street, pleading with them to listen to her. All the while, she is challenged by an opposing voice from the opposite side of the street, also in the form of a woman, however, not a woman depicting wisdom and righteousness but rather “foolishness” or sin. Throughout the entire book of Proverbs this woman of wisdom pleads for the people to listen, often to no avail. It is her voice that we are meant to hear as we read the Proverbs and her words that we find perfect at one moment and burdensome at others.
The difficulty in taking advice stems from lack of trust in the source. As we listen to the advice we are constantly evaluating the source giving the advice while perhaps making snap-judgments along the way. “Does this person have a right to advise me?” “What do they know about this?” “Who are they to talk?” It is from this mindset that we make our decision whether to follow the advice or not.
The proverbs are potent and almost hypnotic, small bursts of wisdom that captivate with their clarity. We chuckle from time to time as we read, saying things like, “That’s so true.” But when the time comes to practice the sayings in our daily life, we take offense at the words and the source due to their unrealistic standards. We don’t like to look like failures, and when we compare our lives to the wisdom of Proverbs, we often do. It’s easy to feel like a failure when confronted with the perfect advice and standard of Wisdom embodied.
Proverbs 31, the final chapter of Proverbs, is particularly fascinating: we finally get to meet the source of the sayings and words. At last, we meet this “woman of wisdom.” Not only does she have wise sayings to offer us, she is, more importantly, an individual that puts the words into practice. For all intents and purposes, she is perfect.
We might wonder how knowing that this woman practices the sayings is any help to us. “Good for her, but we still feel like the loser.” The only way to have confidence in advice is to trust the source, and to see the source likewise practicing the advice. One of the things that hurts the church the most is that Christians fail to “practice what they preach.” It is because of this careless, irresponsible and hypocritical approach to the Gospel that many avoid church, fall away from the church, or in general fall apart. Superficial belief and worship was what most offended Jesus during his three-year ministry. The idea that people tailored religion to fit their lifestyle led Jesus to call out the religious crowd, not the outcast sinners, as the hypocrites.
When it comes to practicing wisdom and these “perfect words,” the only way we can have confidence that we average people can reflect this wisdom is to understand the source. In Proverbs 31 we meet the woman of wisdom. However, as we know, this woman is not real, she is a literary device created to embody the sayings and to relate the words to us in a way we could understand. The true source of our wisdom is the “teacher of all teachers” and “shepherd of all shepherds.” He is the one that said the sheep listen to his voice. He is the one that promised and delivered the impossible. He told us that we cannot do it alone, and that to attempt to reflect the wisdom of the proverbs using our own effort is futile. With him, through him will we be awed by the wisdom, and ultimately overcome and transformed by it. The voice of Jesus, the one that spoke the truth and is the true voice of wisdom that we can confidently follow.