In Scripture classes this week, students at Campion College would have covered the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. Whilst acknowledging the philosophical and cultural influences of its neighbours, the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament nonetheless exhibits something unique. For the wisdom of the Near East and the Greeks was one of intellectual speculation of the mind, there is a passionate streak that resides within Hebrew notions of wisdom.
Take, for instance, the Book of Job. In its search for the answer as to why the innocent suffer, it is Job’s friends that provide the kind of intellectualised speculation that is typical of what passes off for wisdom. Job, on the other hand, the one deemed to have found wisdom, is not one to hide his anguish, and his version of searching for wisdom is one coupled with an almost wonton lashing out at all and sundry, even at God.
Consider, for instance, his inquiry into the problem of suffering, which begins in Chapter 3 by casting aside all restraint and letting the anguish gush forth
In the end it was Job who broke the silence and cursed the day of his birth.
This is what he said:
Perish the day on which I was born and the night that told of a boy conceived.
May that day be darkness, may God on high have no thought for it, may no light shine on it.
May murk and shadow dark as death claim it for their own, clouds hang over it, eclipse swoop down on it.
See! Let obscurity seize on it, from the days of the year let it be excluded, into the reckoning of the months not find its way.
And may that night be sterile, devoid of any cries of joy!
Let it be cursed by those who curse certain days and are ready to rouse Leviathan.
Dark be the stars of its morning, let it wait in vain for light and never see the opening eyes of dawn.
Since it would not shut the doors of the womb on me to hide sorrow from my eyes.
Why was I not still-born, or why did I not perish as I left the womb?
Why were there knees to receive me, breasts for me to suck?
Now I should be lying in peace, wrapped in a restful slumber,
with the kings and high viziers of earth who have built their dwellings in desolate places,
or with princes who have quantities of gold and silver cramming their tombs;
or, put away like an abortive child, I should not have existed, like little ones that never see the light.
Down there, the wicked bustle no more, there the weary rest.
Prisoners, all left in peace, hear no more the shouts of the oppressor.
High and low are there together, and the slave is free of his master.
Why give light to a man of grief? Why give life to those bitter of heart,
who long for a death that never comes, and hunt for it more than for buried treasure?
They would be glad to see the grave-mound and shout with joy if they reached the tomb.
Why give light to one who does not see his way, whom God shuts in all alone?
One ought not to be surprised in this display of raw emotion. For, according to the Jewish imagination, wisdom is founded not on human speculation. As Laurence Boadt suggested, it is in the union of one’s lot with the sovereignty of God that is the stuff of wisdom. And from the prophets on, we have no way of avoiding the idea that the inner reality of the God of the Hebrews is one marked by passion, whose emotions thrash about and cries out “like a woman in labour” (Isa 42:14). No surprise then, that the growth in wisdom in a Hebrew register (which applies equally for Christians as well as Jews) is also a growth in affectivity.