St Andrew’s Anglican, Indooroopilly
15-16 June 2019
Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31
Neuroscience tells us play is important, we know that’s how children learn, and adults are healthier when they have time to play. And play is good not just for humans but also for a host of other animals. I’m sure you’ve seen your pets play. My fish, Bob, likes to dance with me, believe it or not, for no purpose other than to dance. And here’s the thing – I like to dance with that fish too. Play universally stirs something, it is joyful, steadying, and calm.
So, you must be wondering now how on Earth this fits with the Trinity. Bear with me – I promise it does! We’re going to look at the Proverbs reading today.
Oftentimes, we hear about the Trinity from the lens of the Gospels, the Baptismal formula of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or from Paul’s detailed teaching.
But a recent work by Katherine Sonderegger calls the Church to start with the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. God, the One God, has reached out to Creation since the formless void of Genesis was transformed under God’s hand. The command to worship only one God is found in Deuteronomy, and is recited still by observant Jews today:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.
So, with this in mind, I thought we could begin today with Proverbs, to see what we learn about the Trinity? And that raises our first question – just who is Wisdom?
We could start from the Gospel and project back. Very early on in church history, Jesus was connected to Wisdom, by Justin Martyr in the early second century. 1 And then, almost without exception, the early church fathers identified Proverb’s Wisdom with Jesus (Olson & Hall, 2002, 22).
When you read Proverbs 8 against the prologue in John, it’s easy to see why Proverbs 8: The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
John 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.
Or you might approach like I did until recently. I had always assumed that the Wisdom in this poem was the Holy Spirit. If you are like me, not to worry – it turns out we’re not alone and we have good company. Irenaeus was teaching just a little after Justin in the second century, and also thought Wisdom in Proverbs 8 was the Holy Spirit (Olson & Hall, 28).
But I suspect trying to fit one of the Trinity with Wisdom would lead us down a rabbit hole, albeit an interesting one. Rather than try to make Proverbs fit with the Gospel account of the Trinity, let’s instead start what the text has to say on its own merits.
Proverbs 8 gives us a poem that contains another creation account, though one that is lesser known than the two that begin Genesis. And here, the Creator God has a master worker rejoicing in the creation. And if we go back a little to Proverbs, 3:19, we hear
The LORD by wisdom founded the earth;
by understanding he established the heavens;
A stronger statement that suggests Wisdom was not just an observer, but an active agent in creation.
Wisdom was there, at the beginning of God’s work. Before the depths, springs, mountains or soil. Wisdom was there to see the heavens formed, the face of the deep settled, the emergence of land from water, and the setting of the foundations of the Earth. And in all that she was God’s daily delight. In the poem, Wisdom is a specific person, an independent person. She is not a tool or attribute (Collett, 2017; Lenzi, 2006, 698). She has her own agency and presence and is amongst humanity. She works with God.
While God is one, God is also persons in relationship. And more than that, God delights in that relationship, and reaches through that relationship to creation.
Even more astonishing, if we turn to an alternative translation from the Jewish Publication Society, and that of William Brown, we see that rejoice can be translated as play.
When he inscribed the foundations of the Earth,
I was beside him growing up
I have been daily his delight
Playing before him every moment
Playing with his inhabited world
Delighting in the offspring of Adam
To our ears, it may seem undignified for Wisdom to be portrayed as growing up, and playful (Lenzi, 2006), but if we shelve our ideas of childishness and instead think of Wisdom playfully learning, expansively and curiously absorbing every new understanding about this new creation with carefree exuberance, and delighting the God from where she came, it tells us so much about the nature of the Trinity, and God’s relationship with humanity. It brings a new light to the relationship between Father and Son.
With Proverbs in mind – how might we read this verse from Genesis 1, “Let us create humankind in our own image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” Is the creative, joyful, playful, mutually giving relationship between Wisdom and Creator the way in which we should live, and care for the Earth? Should we not approach creation with curiosity and delight?
This is an extraordinary reading, and I’m looking forward to revisiting it every three years in the lectionary! There are three things from today I would encourage you to consider. Firstly, Proverbs illuminates part of the nature of the Trinity. This work from Hebrew Scripture points us to a complex God, leading to a peculiar monotheism, of an incomparable God, capable of supporting distinct persons within their oneness. God’s complexity is not a new discovery in the Gospel, but rather the Gospel is consistent with and stands upon the foundations of the Old Testament (Collett, 2017).
Secondly, Proverbs speaks also to the Triune God’s relationship with Creation. If Wisdom does indeed delight in the offspring of Adam, playfully moving amongst us to the delight of God, how might we respond? Because a unique aspect of Christianity is that we believe that God really is present in humanity, in the Son and in the Spirit. That’s wonderful!
Finally, and practically, – I’d say to you that Play is important! It’s where wisdom is found.
Play benefits us. Children develop social, cognitive and motor skills in play, and as a result, they develop a more adaptable brain. When adults play, tension reduces, fitness is improved, and our cognitive skill is fortified. And the writer of the poem in Proverbs recognised this in antiquity. But Play requires reserves – we can’t be playful if we are run ragged and exhausted. To play requires surplus resources. (Pellis, Pellis, & Himmler, 2014). To develop wisdom requires time that is carefree. To have spaciousness for trial and error; to have opportunities when exploration is valued more than evaluation; where practice and participation are the goal above perfection. Wisdom was joyous and carefree in obtaining her understanding of the unfolding universe at creation and our God the creator delights in the Wisdom that learns in this way. If it’s good enough for God, can we also give ourselves the space to learn together in this way?
I’ll give the final word to William Brown: As Wisdom’s growth begins in joy, may the wide eyed delight of children never be lost on the wise. For in Wisdom’s eyes there really are no grownups. The quest for wisdom is ever ongoing, and progress on the path will always be marked with baby steps. (Brown, 2009)
May our hearts seek Wisdom,
so we may know you in joy, with patience,
from the depth of the reserves of the love and joy
gifted in the Spirit that was promised by your Son.
1 Justin gave us the analogy of Wisdom coming from God as Light comes from the sun; light isn’t the sun, but light is continually given by the sun, and is unable to be separated from it. It is from this analogy that we received the phrase light from light that would be adopted in the Nicene creed.
Brown, W. P. (2009). Proverbs 8:22-31. Interpretation, 63 (3),
286+ http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A203770037/AONE?u=acuni&sid=AONE&xid =43dedd4f. Accessed 13 June 2019.
Collett, D. (2017). A place to stand: Proverbs 8 and the construction of ecclesial space. Scottish Journal of Theology, 70 (2), 166-183. doi:10.1017/S0036930617000059
Lenzi, A. (2006). Proverbs 8:22-31: Three perspectives on its composition. Journal of Biblical Literature, 125(4), 687-714. doi:10.2307/27638401
Olson, R. E. & Hall, C. A. (2002). The Trinity. Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans.
Pellis, S. M., Pellis, V. C., & Himmler, B. T. (2014). How play makes for a more adaptable brain: A comparative and neural perspective. American Journal of Play, 7(1), 73-98. Retrieved from https://search-proquest