Dare to be wise – Proverbs 1

When I was a school teacher, there was one question my pupils asked me more than any other. It wasn’t about chemistry or computers. Nor sadly was it how to find the way of salvation in Christ. The most common question was, “Sir, why do all your ties have owls on?”!

And indeed in those days all my ties did have owls on. Because they were ties from my old school, The school emblem was an owl. And the emblem was an owl because the School Motto was “sapere aude” “Dare to be wise”. Not dare to be clever. Not Dare to be intelligent. Not Dare to think a lot. Not Dare to understand. But dare to be wise. Aspire to wisdom.

And that could be the motto of the Book of Proverbs. “Dare to be wise.” Aspire to wisdom.
1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2 for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight;
3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair;
4 for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young—
5 let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance—
6 for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.

Wisdom, understanding, insight, discernment, prudence, learning. “Dare to be wise.”
Wisdom is about two things. It is about ORTHODOXY – saying the right things, believing the right things and understanding the world properly. Wisdom is also about ORTHOPRAXIS – doing the right things! Knowing the truth and living the truth. And what is the secret of right thinking and of right living?
1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,

The fear of the Lord. GNB = Reverence for God. New Century Bible = Respect for the Lord. That is the beginning of wisdom
The fear of the Lord brings wisdom

We live in a world that rejects and ignores God. The best known proverb is probably “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” That is in fact not found in the book of Proverbs at all but in the Psalms, Psalm 14:1 and in the very similar Psalm 53:1. “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” In Bible times the fool only dared say such things in his heart, to himself. Nowadays when the modern fool says “there is no God” he’s quite likely to get a book deal, or even a television series!

Let’s make one long but hopefully very clear philosophical point here. Some people confidently declare ‘‘there is no God’’ as if this were a proven fact. All anyone can reliably say is, ‘‘if there is a God I haven’t seen evidence of his existence yet’’. You simply cannot prove something doesn’t exist, at all, anywhere in the universe. People who say ‘‘God does not exist’’ are only expressing their personal belief. As a teenager I used to argue vigorously that God couldn’t exist. Then God proved me wrong.
Someone who declares that God cannot possibly exist is making the same mistake as someone who insists that Australia cannot possibly exist, just because they haven’t personally been there (yet). Or somebody who says “the Queen doesn’t exist” because he has never met Her Majesty, and refuses to believe the pictures or the people who claim they have met her!

The way we all see the world, our “world view”, depends on where we are standing, where we are coming from. Two people were walking along a river bank one day when they saw a man across the river. “How can we get across?” They shouted. “Why would you be wanting to do that then?” The man asked. “We want to get to the other side” they explained patiently. “Don’t be daft,” the man replied. “You’re already on the other side!”

The way we all see the world, our “world view”, depends on where we are standing, where we are coming from. Most people face this problem when they come to think about God. How we interpret stories, facts, events, evidence, is blinkered by our presuppositions. If a person starts off with the wrong assumptions, the same evidence can reinforce those wrong ideas!

That is the mistake at the heart of the popular view is that science has explained away everything supernatural. Science has explained away God, some people say. God couldn’t have made the world, God couldn’t answer prayers, God couldn’t speak through prophets, because science has explained away God. Of course this is a claim, an assertion and not an argument. The last quarter century has seen an immense backlash against the claims of science in the growing interest in the supernatural, the paranormal and the occult. Very many people do have an instinctive belief in the supernatural.

The reason science can appear to exclude the supernatural is that its underlying presuppositions exclude the supernatural. At deepest of levels Science presumes that the only things which exist are those which can be observed and touched and experimented on. That is an assumption, a presupposition. It’s a necessary assumption if you want to do work in science. But it’s a dangerously mistaken and limiting assumption if you want to live in the real world. Science is used to dealing with certain kinds of evidence – observations and measurements. The hardest thing I found in moving from studying science to studying theology was learning that there are different kinds of evidence as well as scientific experiments, the evidence of historical documents, or of personal testimony for example. These other kinds of evidence need different skills if you are to handle and interpret them properly. The world is overflowing with evidence for existence and activity of God – but sadly some scientists are so locked into their ways of handling evidence and their ways of looking at the world that they can’t accept the testimony of Christians about answers to prayer or god speaking in dreams and visions. They want to put the Bible under a microscope instead of letting its truth touch their hearts.

The same problem comes when some scientists think about miracles “Miracles can’t happen” they say. The underlying assumption in science is that the same things keep on happening in the world. If you do experiment today and get a certain result then if you do same experiment again tomorrow under same conditions you’ll get the same result. That’s how all “scientific laws” are worked out. If things didn’t happen the same day after day you couldn’t do any science at all!!! By definition a miracle is God breaking or suspending those scientific laws which He created and He sustains. God is Creator – He’s allowed to do that if He wants to. But science has problems with God breaking His own rules. Science has problems with anything happening today which won’t happen again tomorrow unless God does the same miracle again then. Science has problems with any events which can’t be experimented upon, anything where you can’t control all the factors and only vary what you want to investigate. So BAD science rejects reports of miracles because such reports can’t be handled in the ways science likes to.

To say “miracles don’t happen” is an assumption. The most any person should say is that “if miracles do happen I haven’t seen any”. That’s the limits of how far science should go. And many of us HAVE seen miracles – healings, answers to prayer. I have experienced miracles myself. So I believe in the God who works miracles! Good science should never reject evidence of miracles just because it doesn’t fit into its philosophy or conflicts with its presuppositions. Scientists should always reexamine their assumptions so they fit with the real world!

The great science fiction author Isaac Asimov made this same mistake as very many people make. He said, “I am an atheist, out and out. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he does not that I don’t want to waste my time.”
Asimov had closed his mind to the evidence for God’s existence – so in the end he could not see what many others can! But Christians HAVE seen that evidence. We have experienced the power of God and seen him at work! And scientists should NOT ignore that evidence, but rethink their scientific assumptions until their science fits with the real world!
It was ALBERT EINSTEIN who said, “Science without religion is blind. Religion without science is lame.” Louis Pasteur said, ““Posterity will some day laugh at the foolishness of our modern materialistic philosophy. The more I study nature the more I am amazed at the Creator.”

End of philosophy lesson. It is indeed the fool who says “there is no God”. Proving conclusively and exhaustively that something absolutely positively DOES NOT AND CANNOT exist is logically impossible. And certainly science has not and cannot prove that God does not exist! On the contrary, if we want to understand the world and how it works, we need God. If we want to know how best to live in this world and to be ready for the next, we need God. Here the Book of Proverbs is very clear.

1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
9:10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Not only the book of Proverbs, but the whole Bible is very clear on this point. If we really want knowledge, wisdom and understanding, our starting place should be the fear of the Lord, respect for God. We need to acknowledge our own limitations and open our hearts to what God can teach us.

15:33 The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honour.
James Packer, in his excellent book, Knowing God, writes: “Knowing about God is crucially important for the living of our lives. As it would be cruel to an Amazonian tribesman to fly him to London, put him down without explanation in Trafalgar Square and leave him, as one who knew nothing of English or England, to fend for himself, so we are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it. The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life with it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know God. Disregard the study of God and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”
2:1My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
2 turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding,
3 and if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
4 and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
6 For the LORD gives wisdom,
and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

If we want wisdom, knowledge, insight, understanding, then we need to start with “the fear of the Lord”. We need to begin with respect for God and reverence for God. Only when we allow for the possibility of God’s existence will we begin to understand the world He has created and our place in it. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

The fear of the Lord brings blessings

In daily life, we’re surrounded by advice. Advice from friends and neighbours, from professionals and teachers, from salesmen and advertisers. Television is packed whith whole channels of programmes of advice. Newspapers have their advice columns and horoscopes. Some of the advice we hear is good, some is bad. We need God’s wisdom to identify what’s wholesome and what’s rubbish.
9:10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
11 For through me your days will be many,
and years will be added to your life.
In other words, the writer says, if you base your life on the fear of the Lord, you will be blessed. Wisdom and understanding will bring their own rewards. You will avoid the mistakes fools make and all kinds of good things will surely follow.

14:16 A wise man fears the LORD and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless.

In many places Proverbs makes clear that the foolish and wicked person will come to a sticky end. Even if they escape the consequences of their folly in this world they will face judgment in the end.
28:14 BLESSED IS THE MAN WHO ALWAYS FEARS THE LORD,but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble.

Hardening of the heart is even more serious than hardening of the arteries.

16 4 The LORD works out everything for his own ends—
even the wicked for a day of disaster.
5 The LORD detests all the proud of heart.
Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.
6 Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for;
through the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil.
By keeping men and women from evil, wisdom and the fear of the Lord bring blessings.

23:17 DO NOT LET YOUR HEART ENVY SINNERS, but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD.

14:27 The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life,
turning a man from the snares of death.
15:33 The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom,
and humility comes before honour.
16:20 Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers,
and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.

So many blessings come to those who put their trust in God.

22:4 Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honour and life.

19:23 The fear of the Lord leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.

What a lovely promise of contentment. Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get.

These blessings of fearing and trusting God come in one sense “automatically”. If a person chooses to do the wrong things, silly things, foolish things, the things God warns against, then they will face the inevitable unpleasant consequences of their folly. On the other hand, Proverbs teaches that if a person does the right things, the sensible things, the things God tells them to do, then the consequences will be good and their lives will be blessed.

More than that, finally the book of Proverbs also makes it clear that there are also special blessings for those who fear God and trust in God. God will act specifically to bring blessing into their lives.
The fear of the Lord brings God’s peace
2:6 For the LORD gives wisdom,
and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
7 He holds victory in store for the upright,
he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
8 for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.

God is on the side of those who fear him and put their trust in him. He will take care of them

305 “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. 6
14:26 He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.

1810 The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.

29:25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare,but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.

It is the fool who says in his heart, “There is no God.” “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Respect for God and reverence for God bring blessings – and God will act to care for those who fear him.
The invitation is there for us all. “Dare to be wise!”

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