Wisdom, and a little something about faith
This paper concerns faithful searching and wisdom, but not the wisdom of Wisdom
literature, whether in the Bible or elsewhere, nor is it about Wisdom in the sense of
applied knowledge. It is more about connecting with wisdom as an aspect of God, the
Wisdom referred to as having personality in Proverbs chapters 1-4.
That Wisdom is gendered as a she, gracious and nurturing, teaching and leading,
constant and loving, though she is not at all bashful, as she shouts out her truths in the
Some people may find this difficult, but can be re-assured that some leaders teach that
Wisdom is an aspect of Holy Spirit, to whom we in the West have ascribed the male
gender, but who in some languages could be rendered in the neuter gender. It is our
language’s weakness that we must attribute gender in order to confer personality.
Others point out that Wisdom is present and active during Creationi so that she is an
aspect of both Father and Son.
As ever, our concerns over such matters tell us far more about ourselves and our limited
perceptions and comfort zones than they do about God!
Of what use is theologising if it produces no fruit in our lives and our behaviour?
This paper is therefore about connecting with the Divine, who created us male and
female, and but also created asexual beings, and who therefore encapsulates and
exceeds all genders and modes of existence.
Let us look at some Wisdom teaching drawn from three Bible passages.
Form-criticism, redaction, and the usual tools of exegesis and hermeneutics will not
avail us here. Let us allow the words to speak to us and ingest then, so that Wisdom is
embodied in us.
In fact, words only take us so far in this endeavour, whether written or spoken, so this
paper can only be a taster.
There is a path: let the Light of the Word lead us to Wisdom, if only we have eyes to see.
Indeed the first lesson of Wisdom is to awake from sleep, for only if our eyes are open
can we see anything at all!
Ephesians 5: 14 is a reveille,
‘Awake, O sleeper,
rise from the dead
and Christ will give you light. ‘ ii
Are we asleep?
And if so, how do we wake up? Thought is not enough; action is good but insufficient.
Some of us make moves yet sleepwalk. Others stir from time to time, then relapse into
slumber. We call such moments high points of Christian living, peaks of experience,
never grasping the panorama that such glimpses offer, an insight into a more lasting if
not permanent state of higher being.
I was a boxer when I was at school. I learned the hard way that I was not able to easily
shake off the impact of punches.
In one bout, while well ahead on points, I took a heavy right hook to the jaw in the
second round, so was relieved when the bell went and I could return to my corner to be
worked over by my seconds. Only then, when the so-called magic sponge was applied,
the cold water sloshing onto my neck and trickling down my back did I realise I had been
standing up on instinct and training. I woke up, as if starting the morning all over again,
realising that for some time I had been a boxing somnambulist!
Our first passage relates to Jabez, to be found in 1 Chronicles 4: 9-10.
‘ 9 Jabez was more honourable than his brothers. His mother had named him
Jabez, iii saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” 10 Jabez cried out to the God of
Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand
be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God
granted his request. ‘
Jabez asks for blessing and the enlargement of territory, which we can see as nothing
more than an increased landholding with concomitant increased livestock. But Wisdom
looks deeper and calmly notes that Jabez, battling against the negativity of his own
name, which means ‘pain’, does not accept the visible status quo, but calls out to God.
James 4:8 states; ‘Draw near to Me and I will draw near to you’. iv
Wisdom knows there is no mileage in the inquiry as to which comes first, the search or
the rescue. Again, it is written, in 1 John 4:19, ‘We love Him because He first loved us.’ v
Wisdom cares nothing for the chicken and egg debate, for She is timeless, and her
yearning is endless and eternal.
Any number of seekers testify that they thought they were seeking God but then joyfully
discovered they had been found!
A crucial step on the Wisdom path is to reach beyond this present state of being. To ask,
to seek, to knock, vi knowing that a Gift awaits, if only we persevere. Solomon asked for
discernment, vii and received wisdom. viii Furthermore, God is the Gift, for He gives the
Holy Spirit, He gives Himself. ix
Jabez also teaches us that however difficult this path, whatever disciplines are required,
God keeps us from harm and free from pain.
This entirely contradicts the worldly wisdom of ‘no pain, no gain’. But of course I am not
here speaking of physical pain, which can indeed on occasion be part of our schooling.
The promise is that our essence will come to no harm or be subject to pain, by which I
mean – for I wish to avoid the controversy of semantics – the self, however constituted,
which now exists, and which goes on after death. This Self is being formed in us during
our life in this Age, and will meet with God in the Age to come.
So, we can cry out with confidence, knowing we will be heard. Our confidence can be
increased in the knowledge that Jabez overcame and was lifted above the crippling effect
of his name, with all that that entails and, indeed, embodies.
The promise also, therefore, extends to those of us who are born disadvantaged, who
have been subjected to terrible abuse and oppression, or who live in fear that we cannot
change or be changed.
Pain teaches fear, but Wisdom teaches that all creation cries out to God xand, however
crippled our voice, we will be heard. xi
Jabez was not barred from blessing, and nor are we.
As we exercise and carry out daily chores, let us breathe out and call out these words,
crying out for enlargement of essence, blessing, increased territory, to be held safe and
pain free, and escape our current limitations. Where there is will in our work, there is a
working in our will. This is the Jabez prayer.
The second Wisdom lesson is to do with the blazing up of want and wish, of will and
word, of desire and deed.
Our second passage is the burning bush of Exodus 3 – 4:17, when Moses as shepherd,
came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a
bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So
Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does
not burn up.”
When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from
within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.” ‘
How can a bush burn, yet not be consumed?
This is a sign and wonder, certainly, and of course attracted Moses’ attention, and we can
similarly be amazed. Furthermore, we can be drawn into a search for the God who is a
consuming fire but whose fire is never extinguished. Moses turned aside from his daily
routine to look, and we too can and must turn aside, else we stay asleep, unaware,
To burn, yet not be burnt: to walk, like Shadrech, Meshach and Abednego, with a Shining
One and not be harmed, xii to be baptised as hot as fever, xiii yet be at peace and whole.
There is a story from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, worthy of meditation and prayer,
for we can become fire.
‘Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can, I say
my Little Office. I fast a little. I pray. I meditate. I live in peace and as far as I
can, I purify my thoughts. What else am I to do?”
“What else,” Abba Lot says, “can I do?” Then the old man stood up, stretched
his hands towards heaven and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire, and
he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.” ‘ xiv
This is perplexing to the mind, and while Endnote 19 proffers an answer as to its
meaning, it is only an answer, and not the full Answer for us. This saying, like the
wisdom sayings of Our Lord, needs to sit within us, for full-being consideration, for it
speaks beyond the mind to something deeper within, something more lasting and less
narrow than the intellect.
The fire is elemental, the cause and carriage of rescue xv and of burnt offering, xvi the
substance of heavenly beings.
‘ He makes his angels winds.
His servants flames of fire.’ xvii
So let us sit and reflect upon fire and flame as symbol, as reality, as representative and as
heavenly Agent and outpouring. Let us dance and gesture and move, as King David
celebrated before the Lord. xviii
‘When the fire of love has really taken hold of the soul it cleans out all vice, it puts away
the trivial and unnecessary.’xix
Furthermore, let us become flame, for in that energy we are one with Him, for “our God
is a consuming fire.” ’ xx
Let us not limit ourselves into tame acquiescence that such language is merely figurative
and aspirational. Symbolic, certainly, but in His power and by His grace, attainable! And
let us ignite one another.
At Pentecost, there were visible tongues of flame, xxi during the Azusa Street revival it is
said that the roof appeared to be on fire, xxiiyet these outward signs and symbols are as
nothing to what Wisdom teaches about the fire of passion’s surrender, the cleansing of
our self, xxiii the production of refined gold and silver from basic ore. In an Age obsessed
with economic gain, Wisdom shows us real profit. xxiv
Psalm 66: 10-12 gleefully chortles,
‘10For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
11You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
12 You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.’
Let us imbibe these words, chant these verses, and proclaim them together with and
over our friends!
The third Wisdom lesson is to be found at Matthew 14: 22-33. There is a storm on the
Sea of Galilee and the disciples see Jesus walking on the water. We can’t be sure that he
was actually walking towards them, and this is a point for meditation.
We can note that there are many occasions in Scripture where encounters with God and
with angels induces fear in us mortals. On Galilee, then, Jesus assures his followers, ‘Do
not be afraid, for I am’. The literal Biblical Greek is important here, for Jesus is not simply
identifying himself as any one of us might do by saying ‘It is I’.
The claim ‘I am’ resonates down the years from the making of the Covenants with the
fathers and mothers of faith. Peter, thrilled in his essence by the wonder and majesty of
a higher being, asks to be invited and, accepting the invitation to approach Jesus, steps
upon the water, and walks.
If we believe this to be flowery language, symbolic of an internal ascent to faith and
trust, then we would be correct. But if we stop there, we lack wisdom. For an interaction
with both the Powers behind the storm and the natural world of our external
environment is also in the truth of this encounter.
The path of Wisdom treads a narrow way between an unhealthy straining against the
limits of our humanity and a warm welcoming of God’s elevation of us to higher planes
Paul knew this when he spoke of both wasting away and dying and yet growing and
The wisdom path also avoids the error of dualism, parsing mind, body and spirit; it also
eschews growth by self-will or self-effort, the major heresy of the New Age movement.
We all know the rest of the water-walking story. Peter is often castigated from pulpits
across the centuries and around the world for his lack of faith, as he takes his eyes off
Jesus, gives way to fear, and sinks into the water.
When did we last get out of the boat?
Wisdom waits until God says ‘Come’. The fervency of our desire is not sufficient footing;
the flame of our zeal cannot manufacture an invitation to come.
We have to know, in the central fibres of our being, in our essence, that we are invited
and then we may step upon the water.
There is wisdom here in tarrying as our spiritual ancestors used to call it, and
understanding that when the pillar of smoke and fire stops, so must we. xxvi
When it moves, we move. When He stops, so must we. Becoming more aware of His
Presence uplifts us to become fully present ourselves.
We are invited to ‘Boldly approach the throne of Grace’, xxviianother picture of our
devotional life as well as drawing upon structures and symbols of the Ancient Near East.
When Esther approached the King, his golden sceptre was extended towards her as an
indication of welcome and invitation.xxviii At the end of the canon of Scripture, the picture
is changed but the invitation is repeated. xxix
‘The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!” and let him who hears say, “Come!”
Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free
gift of the water of life.’
We have a permanent invitation, but it may be that at different times and phases of our
lives we seek a specific invitation as Peter did. When we obey that invitation we rise,
perhaps are elevated by communion, to a higher state of being, a foretaste of our post-
mortem life. This also stands as a sign and wonder to the Powers and a witness to our
fellow humans of the former’s eventual subjugation and our own final assessment.
Language struggles to express these insights and many readers will dismiss my
comments as high-faluting fantasy, perhaps the whimsy of a poetic mindset.
We will not contend over this, but please remember that Wisdom looks beyond the
limits of narrow life experience and self-conscious Western empiricism to foundational
Life, flowing from a Creator whose existence is totally independent of and untouched by
Peter walked on water, a fruitless and valueless exercise in itself, and not to be sought
for its own sake or as evidence of a supposed spirituality. The value of his water-walking
lay in his trust and obedience; as a result he came closer to Jesus.
Peter walked on water, transformed by his contact with the divine, transcending the
norms of the visible and so-called natural order.
Wisdom asks us to open our eyes, call for enlarged territory, ignite and combine with
fire, walk on water and yet not be extinguished, follow a path that our forebears have
trod but that we have forgotten.
Enlargement: fire: water! All are metaphors yet more than metaphors, and all call for
action, both exterior and interior.
We are called to walk and to work: to be enlarged in our essence: to flame and not fame.
Shall we respond together, so we can be together, with Him, in Wisdom?
i Proverbs 3:19. All citations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated.
ii My rendition.
iii Jabez sounds like the Hebrew word for pain.
iv My rendition.
vi Matthew 7:7
vii 1 Kings 3:9
viii 1 Kings 4:29
ix Like 11:13
x Romans 8:22
xii Daniel 3:25
xiv A Word from the Holy Fathers (2009) Ancient Faith Radio [Online]. Available from:
[Accessed 23 Feb 2011]
xv 2 Kings 2:11
xvi Leviticus 9:24
xvii Hebrews 1:7
xviii 2 Samuel 6:14
xix Rolle, R. (1343) The Fire of Love. (trans.) Wolters, C. (1972) Penguin: 113
xx Hebrews 12: 29
xxi Acts 2:3
xxii It is said that the flames of fire on the roof attracted the attention of the local Los
Angeles fire department.
xxiii Psalm 12:6
xxiv Proverbs 3: 13-18
xxv 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
xxvi Exodus 13:21-22
xxvii Hebrews 4:16 – my rendition
xxviii Esther 4:11-12; 5:1-2
xxix Revelation 22:17-18