Sunday, August 9, 2009

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Knowing God


Can any praise be worthy of the Lord’s majesty? How magnificent his strength! How inscrutable his wisdom! Man is one of your creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise you. He bears about him the mark of death, the sign of his own sin, to remind him that you thwart the proud. But still, since he is a part of your creation, he wishes to praise you. The thought of you stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.” (First paragraph of Augustine’s Confessions)

... then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
” (Pr. 2:5)

He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30)

This is the third in a series of posts, and the first two have been almost hyperbolic in their negative tone: The first looked at what Proverbs teaches to be the characteristic danger to the young, the “turning away of the simple”. The second followed this up with another lesson from Proverbs, namely that the young are surrounded by enemies, the “seed of the serpent”, who work at enticing them to turn away: They sow doubt. (“Did God actually say, ....”) They try to make sin attractive. (“Stolen water is sweet, ....”)

This picture is daunting enough so that one version or another of what is reported to be Mark Twain’s advice on raising boys may seem to be our only reasonable response. (In one version, he reportedly advised keeping them in a pickle barrel until the age of 12. In another version, he is supposed to have advised putting them in at age 13 for their teenage years.) A less humorous way of putting this would be to say that the proper response to the situation must be fearful and “prophylactic”. Or, trying humor again, perhaps the only way to raise our young is to guard them night and day, “until their brains grow in”. Certainly, many of the citations from Proverbs in the second post seem to lend support to this.

However, it would be very wrong to draw this conclusion, and, I think there are many who can attest that trying to raise children in this spirit can easily lead to disaster. And, looking again at Proverbs, this is not the message we find there. Indeed, the message we find in my favorite chapter of that book, Proverbs 2, is very different: In the first 5 verses, the young person is exhorted to seek wisdom ardently, disdaining the goods of this age, and a wonderful reward for this is held out in verse 5, "... then you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.” So the chapter begins by recognizing what Augustine marks out at the beginning of his Confessions as our greatest need and deepest longing, to know God.

The chapter continues in verses 6 to 10 with the promise that, finding God, we will find wisdom, and, in particular, what is sometimes phrased as “wise dealing”: “Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; ....

Only then, does the promise come in verses 11 and following that we might be inclined to grasp at for its own sake: “... discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, ....

So the teaching of Proverbs 2 shows us that, were we to focus first on doing everything we can to keep our young safe, hoping that, later, when they are past the dangerous years, they will seek to know God and to love Him, we would be “180 degrees wrong”! Indeed, we would show ourselves to be valuing a gift of God before Him, and so, strange as it might seem at first, we would show ourselves to be idolaters! Moreover, by our values and example before our young, we would be teaching them to be the same. So it would hardly be surprising if the Lord did not bless this child-rearing paradigm.

As was pointed out above, Proverbs 2 begins with an exhortation to seek wisdom ardently. The citation from 1 Corinthians 1 at the top of this post makes it clear where we are to find wisdom (“and righteousness and sanctification and redemption”): It must be in Christ Jesus. And 2 Corinthians 4 makes it clear that, finding Him, we - and our children - will find “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. In other words, while we are charged, of course, to guard our children and exhort them to wisdom and prudence, our primary charge must be to evangelize them, knowing that, if they truly find Christ, He will safeguard them. Because of this, the main question we must ask ourselves about our young ones is not, “How can I keep them safe?”, but, rather, “How can I share with them how desperately I need the Lord, and what a joy it has been to me to find Him?”

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