If this is your first visit, please see my introduction to these Lenten readings.
4 March. Wisdom chapters 1-4
After the last couple of weeks’ readings in Maccabees with all the glory and gore of warfare, coming to the book of Wisdom (or Wisdom of Solomon as it is sometimes known) is a blessed relief. Here, instead of violent struggle in the name of God as the way to please him, we find that a holy and peaceful life is the better way. These opening chapters contrast the virtuous person who places their trust in God and in the resurrection, with the “ungodly” who live amoral or even immoral lives with no thought for the spiritual consequences. Several errors are highlighted that the “ungodly” make:
Firstly they do not realise that God, represented as Wisdom, is all-present and all-knowing, aware of our every thought, word and deed (1:6-11). That in itself should make us stop short when we are tempted to become angry, to hurt someone else, tell lies, or sin in any other way. But of course we quickly forget that in the heat of the moment. That is why wisdom is paired with discipline (3:11) – it requires the discipline of frequent prayer to remember constantly that God is with us and aware of everything we do. And I will be the first to hold my hand up and say that does not yet describe me.
Secondly, by not believing in the afterlife, they think that sins committed in this life have no consequences (chapter 2). Rather, the wise person is willing to accept hardship or even martyrdom for the sake of God’s favour in the life to come (2:1-9, 4:7-19).
Thirdly, they think wrongly that hardship in this life, particularly in the matter of bearing children (who were very much seen in those days as a sign of God’s blessing) means a person has displeased God. In fact the opposite is true – a woman faithful to one husband but without children is more pleasing to God than someone who has slept around, perhaps in the vain hope of bearing a child by anyone; and the eunuch (perhaps meaning anyone who is sexually different from the majority) will be treated with special favour, again as long as they do not sin (3:10-4:6). By contrast, the godless person who has many children will suffer God’s displeasure – and so (according to this text) will their children. Jesus contradicted this belief by assuring people that non-one is judged by God for their parent’s sins.
These black-and-white morals may look rather simplistic in our complicated multicultural world with its many different faiths and views on what is acceptable behaviour. But the first of them, I would argue, is certainly worth thinking about – if you believe in a God who is ever present, that will affect everything you do and how you relate to other people.