Friday, May 24, 2013

The Allure of Jesus

Proverbs 8 extols the virtues of Wisdom; a proper noun deserving of its capital letter because in Proverbs Wisdom is not merely something people gain by learning or experience. It is not a mere character trait or personal attribute. Wisdom itself is personified as a woman who calls to the men of the city. She calls out on the heights, at the crossroads and at the city gates that she may be found. She is depicted as a kind of righteous temptress. She is one who is attractive and even aggressive in her appeal but who stands in contrast with the ways of Lady Folly whose appeal is skewed to the shallow and short-sighted. The allure of Woman Wisdom, on the other hand, is a seduction into the ways that lead to life and wholeness. The book of Proverbs could be characterized as an attempt to help us see past the the make-up and air brushing of a magazine cover kind of life to a less attention grabbing but more deeply alluring and fundamentally beautiful life with God.

As a part of that attempt, the writer of Proverbs describes Wisdom as being fundamental to God's work of creation. Proverbs 8:22, notorious for the ambiguity of its main verb, has Woman Wisdom say "The Lord possessed/established/created me at the beginning of his work." Although it is unclear whether Wisdom should be understood as one who has always existed alongside God, a creation of God, or an extension of God's own self, what is clear and seems to be the more important point of this and the verses that follow is that Wisdom was and is present in the foundations of creation. Proverbs describes Wisdom as being there from the very beginning of creation and also as being a key player in the work of creation itself. In v. 30, Wisdom says "I was beside him like a master workman." (As long as we are talking about magazine covers, perhaps this would be an appropriate alternative for envisioning Woman Wisdom as she is described in this verse.) Wisdom's fingerprints are left all over the created world because it is by her hands that it was built. Perhaps this is why she is both so readily available (her handiwork surrounds us and attests to her presence) and deeply alluring (she is woven into the very fabric of our own being).

The writers of the New Testament found this depiction of Woman Wisdom to be quite alluring as well - though for reasons that might surprise us. They found the character of Woman Wisdom to be a readily meaningful way to talk about Jesus. A thorough study of those connections is something that exceeds both my own knowledge and the space of this blog post but a few examples will suffice.
"But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."  -1 Corinthians 1:24
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things and in him all things hold together." - Colossians 1:15-17 (notice the similarities with Proverbs 8:15-16, 22-30)
What is even more significant, however, than any simple verbal parallel between Proverbs and the New Testament is the likeness to Jesus that the first Christians found in Wisdom as one who is both intimately connected to Yahweh but also somehow distinct. We've already seen how Wisdom is personified as being an entity somehow distinguishable from Yahweh though obviously also belonging to/being a part of Yahweh given Israel's strict monotheism. This lent itself as a perfect precedent for precisely what the early Christians believed about Jesus; that he was one who was somehow distinguishable from the one he called "Father" but that he was also a true and whole manifestation of Yahweh. This idea is reflected in the prologues of John and Hebrews:
"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was with God." - John 1:1
"Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power." - Hebrews 1:1-3
 It is precisely these kinds of statements which push us toward the doctrine of the Trinity to which we give special attention on this upcoming Trinity Sunday. The doctrine of the Trinity arose because the Church needed a way to articulate who Jesus (and later, the Spirit) is; someone who is both God and along side God, someone who does things that only God can do but who is not the Father. As the Church sought for language to articulate this reality, they found Woman Wisdom to be readily available and alluring indeed for she captured quite well the reality that those first disciples had experienced in the person of Jesus.

Perhaps, like the authors of the New Testament, we can also come to a better understanding of who Jesus is by hearing his voice in the words of Woman Wisdom. Then we can see that when we encounter Jesus, we encounter one who was there at the creation of the world, whose fingerprints are all over us and the world around us because it is by his hands that we were made. It is for that reason that his beauty is attested by so much in our world, especially our fellow man and woman, so long as we will resist the temptation to air-brush and computer edit what does not fit our standard of beauty. It is also for that reason that when we truly behold the beauty of the life of Jesus; his mercy, compassion, and righteousness, we find it deeply alluring. In fact, we find it down right seductive because it resonates with the very core of who we are and what we long for the world to be. Jesus is not merely one who utters commandments to be obeyed. He is one with whom we are enraptured because he lives life in all the ways we've hoped it could be lived. And this is the way it should be because this is who he created us to be - to be like him. At every turn - on the heights, at the crossroads, at the city gate - Jesus is calling us to come to him and to find in him the source and satisfaction of our deepest and most pervasive longings. This is one seduction we do well not to deny.

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