Dr. William Brown takes a second look at Proverbs during his Dialogue, Dissonance and Debate in the Bible class
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
The sages invite us to think of fear in a new way, Dr. Bill Brown said during the final session of “Dialogue, Dissonance & Debate” at the Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ Worship & Music Conference held last week at Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, North Carolina. The second week, which is nearly identical to the first week, began Sunday and runs through Friday.
“We think of fear as a debilitating emotion. It’s unhealthy to live in fear,” said Brown, Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. “My take is maybe ‘reverential awe’ is the way to capture the positive aspect of fear.”
Rather than the avoidance response we often think of, in the Bible it’s an “affiliative fear,” Brown said. “It draws you toward the object of fear. It’s the trailhead of the path to God. Also, in the end, wisdom is a gift from God.”
In order to be open to learning, one must be curious. “That’s a hidden virtue in Proverbs,” Brown said. “If we enter into debate with a sense of curiosity and wonder, our dialogues might go in a different direction than polarization.”
Proverbs 3:13-17 presents wisdom as a woman. It’s “patriarchal language, written for young males on the brink of adulthood,” Brown noted. As they leave home, these young men are reminded to “at least be connected to wisdom, and she will take care of you.”
Proverbs 31 is an acrostic poem of a female figure. “A woman of strength who can find?” in verse 10 can be rendered, one translator said, as “a woman of valor.”
“She is domestic, and she does real estate and marketing, and she’s an influencer,” Brown said, updating the chapter for the modern ear. “She’s always weaving textiles and trading them. She’s very resourceful. She’s described as a warrior, a warrior of the household.”
After reading Proverbs 3:19-20 aloud, Brown asked, “can wisdom be gained through Creation itself? For the sages, it’s a resounding ‘yes.’”
“The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible,” Brown said, quoting Albert Einstein. “It’s a mystery we can understand. God could have left Creation as a formless void or a watery mass, but God didn’t do that. God created light, structure and life” as described in Genesis 1.
Wisdom played a significant role in Creation, as described in Proverbs 8:22-31. “It’s wisdom’s testimony of her own genesis,” Brown said. “God is securing Creation, establishing it, drafting it and then constructing it.” Wisdom is birthed by God, the “architect and the mother of wisdom,” Brown said. “God represents a nonbinary view of a Creator.” Wisdom “plays in God’s Creation and delights in the offspring of Adam.”
“You don’t find this anywhere else in Wisdom literature, that play can be an essential part of growth and wisdom,” Brown said. “There is wisdom in play, wonder, awe, curiosity and the fear of God.”
“In play, we don’t take ourselves so seriously. We come to it with curiosity, wonder and openness,” Brown said. “We grow up, but we never lose that essential childlike wonder.”
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