“Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord.

They would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their own fancies.

For the turning away of the simple will slay them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them: But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, and will be secure, without fear of evil.” Proverbs 1:29-33

[I can’t tell you what translation of scripture this is, only that I found it in the desk drawer of my guest room at Princeton Seminary. It’s from a pocket size New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs provided by the Gideon’s. Alongside the English version were two others: Spanish and Korean. Sitting in one of the world’s best centers for theological education, whose staff and former staff have provided translations for the RSV and NRSV Bibles, it was a welcome surprise to find the same little scripture book here that can be found in hotel drawers throughout the world – free offerings with no strings and no sermon attached.]

Wisdom speaks as a woman in Proverbs, offering advice and pointing the way to a better life for all who desire it. But that better life isn’t one at the expense of others, and it doesn’t promise fame or immense wealth. There is a cost to it, just as there is a cost to every life choice. Perhaps that’s the take-away from Proverbs: choices have consequences, for the one who does the choosing and the ones who are affected by the choices.

In a surface reading of this book, it looks like Wisdom offers safety and security to those who follow her – those who accept that wisdom begins with choosing God first (the fear of the Lord). But wise men and women who choose God first don’t seem to have lives of security and safety any more than the ones who make a different choice. In fact, it seems like they are more likely to suffer or die young: Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, MLK, Mother Theresa, and Rosa Parks to name a few. So what does it mean when Wisdom says that those who follow her will “dwell safely and will be secure, without fear of evil?” I don’t think there’s an answer to this question that can be typed out or memorized. The best I can articulate is something like this:

Choosing God first is choosing to live in the largest reality that this universe has to offer. It is seeing everyone and everything as God-related and God-created. Nothing can ever remove us from the embrace of God – even those things that harm the body and shorten life. We may lose our way, but we are never lost to God.

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