God’s delightful creation and abundant salvation
Guest post by John Klassen.
The lectionary readings for this Sunday – Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31 and Romans 5: 1-5 – were chosen for their relationship to the Trinity. Until the beginning of the 20th century, Wisdom was seen as metaphor for Christ. Today, more attention is given to the actual language which describes Wisdom in her own right. The passages from the lectionary take us over a number of landmark events in the history of Israel and Christianity. They include Creation as seen in Proverbs 8 written by Solomon, (King of Israel 961-922 BC). Wisdom describes the creation of planet Earth as a garden of delights. The second reading is the letter of Paul to the Romans. He describes the truth of God’s salvation. The truth is that with the death and resurrection of Christ, God’s abundant love and mercy has done all that is required to save the universe from the reign of sin and death.
In Proverbs 8, wisdom appears to us as female. She is content with who she is. She speaks for herself and is clear. She knows that if she wants to communicate she needs to go to where people are, so she speaks on the hilltops, at the crossroads and at the entrance of the town, where the people meet to visit and conduct business. She proceeds to lay out her qualifications, stating she was formed ages ago (v.23). Most important is her long experience working with God since Creation. Physicists say that the universe is at least 13 billion years old and yet Wisdom states that God created her before everything else was created, as a real being, not a metaphor, not an abstraction, but an independent, active being. Her experience of working alongside God taught her to use her rational mind. William Blake catches the role of reason present at creation when he painted the Creator with the compass of geometry (Ancient of Days (God Creating the Universe), c. 1794).
Proverbs 8 asserts that Wisdom is present with the Godhead along with God, the Son and the Spirit. Wisdom delights in creation. She was present before the waters began flowing, before the fields were made, before the mountains and heavens were set in their place, before the boundaries of the oceans were defined, when he made firm the skies above, established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limits, so that the waters might not transgress his command:
30 then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.
So wisdom knows what she is talking about when she describes a universe and a world made for play. She and God seem to have been having the time of their lives playing, sporting and rejoicing with their new creation. The NASA Hubble camera shows that there are about 170 billion galaxies in all of the observable universe. The most distant are billions of light years distant. Some so distant they may be gone by the time their light reaches us. Wisdom was alongside helping God create this vast cosmos.
Wisdom is aware that things have changed since the beginning. The world is no longer benign body of matter as it was before the Fall. Life is hard and difficult, so she offers advice. If we know that there are good things and bad things, we can get along better and we can diminish the cruelty of death. Wisdom also gives her advice on behaviour. She speaks personally. She is wisdom and she describes how she lives, what she likes and hates. Her counsel is geared towards physical survival and healthy relationships between people. She addresses herself to the local community and to all visitors where they live and work. At the crossroads, at the gates to the city she addressed the population. “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all mankind” (v.4). She starts with goodness which includes prudence, far-sightedness and pragmatism. Next, intelligence, including talent and insight. Knowledge is more than the accumulation of information: it involves values such as righteousness, justice, truth, wisdom and discretion. Her list of bad qualities is shorter. Her strongest statement is against Evil, pride and arrogance. The wealth she offers the wise is not measured in silver and gold. The fruit of her wisdom brings life: “Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. By me kings…decree what is just; I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice, those who fail to find me harm themselves; all who hate me love death” (v. 13, 15-16). She comes not as a rough enforcer, but as a friendly adviser. She intends her advice to remove some of the stings of life.
We turn briefly to the New Testament to examine Paul’s insights on a healing God in Romans 5:1-5. According to Paul, no people are justified because they keep the law well enough to claim to be righteous. This means that no one has the right to judge another. We are justified by faith and we have peace with God because Jesus Christ gives us access to grace which gives a hope of share the glory of God. We are not justified by our own faith, but by the faithfulness of Christ. Jesus had the faith to obey God and accept death on behalf of others. Peace with God is grounded objectively in what God has done in Christ. The effectiveness of God’s action in the crucified and risen Christ does not depend on any experience in our soul, not on a stirring of our spirits, not because we made a decision, not because we do good, and not because we have more faith. God calls us in righteousness: it is a gift from God. In Romans 5, the apostle explains how justification works. It’s a simple exchange. Sin overwhelms everything, but the Sin of Adam is replaced by the obedience of Jesus. He sees sin, not as specific deeds, but as a power that conquers all creation, and like gravity pulls everything and everyone into its field. Like Israel, we are a people suffering under sin. Before Jesus Christ, there was no sign of hope. Through Jesus, God sends the message that we are righteous, that death is not the final word. You are righteous because the tragedy of the cross has been turned into victory and death is turned into life. This has always been a difficult truth to believe. In the image below, the 12th century artist visualized the end of death and the defeat of Satan. The words in the circle are, The Stronger One seizes the captives of the Strong One and he treads the Enemy underfoot.
Harrowing of Hell c.1150 Cologne.
When we cross through the door of our own death we will find the delightful life of play as it was in Wisdom’s new creation. This is because of Christ’s faithfulness unto death. Faith and its power comes alive when death becomes life through the cross and the resurrection.