Week 3: Conventional Wisdom

Make Option 02:

In the lecture “Wisdom,” I suggest that the book of Ecclesiastes frequently “sets the bait” of conventional wisdom (Eccles 3:1–8; 7:1–13) in order to “spring the trap,” confronting the reader with a dissenting wisdom that subverts that conventional wisdom (Eccles 3:1–8 is surrounded by 2:1–26; 3:9–22; Eccles 7:1–14a is followed by 7:14b–29). Write an original composition that uses modern examples of conventional wisdom to “set the trap” for a dissenting perspective that subverts the conventional wisdom. Some examples of conventional wisdom that may prove useful:

Remember, your goal is to “fool” your reader (at least briefly) into assenting to such conventional wisdom, before surprising the reader by subverting the conventional wisdom with a dissenting perspective.

In a few follow-up paragraphs, explain to your reader how the biblical examples serve as templates for you. Describe briefly, citing course materials, the ways that conventional and dissenting wisdom function (sometimes called “speculative wisdom”) in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes.

“This is all in God’s Plan; God will take care of you”

Recently, I spoke with someone who had just lost her husband of 40 years. She and I spoke and she explained to me that she is angry with God. I asked her why and she said “because he took my husband from me!” Obviously, my response to her was “This is all in God’s plan; God will take care of you!” This made her feel visibly better and she was finally able to accept her husband’s death and move on. We also sang all five stanzas of “God will take care of you.”

WRONG!!

As a Christian American, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard someone utter this phrase at funerals, deathbeds, when someone has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, or any time a negative life event happens. We are often reminded of scripture that says: God’s will is good, pleasing, and perfect (Romans 12:2). Cancer does not fall into any of those categories. Losing a loved one does not fall into any of those categories. All of these things we “blame” God for do not fall into the categories of good, pleasing, and perfect. However, we like to blame God when things do not go the way we hope, expect, or plan.

I once read a book that explained that Heaven is a place of “no more.” What the author meant in this statement is that Heaven is a place of no more (fill in the blank). For example, No more suffering.

When I look at this through the lens of the book of Job, it makes sense. Job’s desire was to blame God, however, the adversary was the one who was testing Job. Also, Job was allowed to be mad at God and question God. His friends challenged them on this… they felt his actions were wrong. God is silent for time, and then lays out the account of why God is blameless and the strong one. In this, Job was able to be wise by grappling with the harsh reality of what God had “allowed” and he was restored. The friends were punished. Bandstra discusses this in the reading for this week. He states that Job is one who has a hard time and could not perceive the things that had happened to him. Once God speaks to Job, Job never gets a full explanation of why the events occurred, however he is given a new family and more wealth than he had ever had. Bandstra discusses this concept and speaks about the idea that this could be a metaphor for the suffering one encounters when they sin and the retribution God has on the person. However, Bandstra also discusses that the story could have been using Job to reference the nation of Israel and narrate the story they were going through (he refers to Habel for this). However, ultimately Bandstra explains that this text is an excellent example of the theology of retribution. He looks at the idea behind the theology in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, as well as Job and makes the statement that retribution is not the only nor most important factor in human-divine relations.

In summary, how did I respond to the freshly widowed woman? I told her that it is acceptable to be angry and wrestle with God. It is Ok to not be OK. I told her to look at the Book of Job; someone who has had everything taken away from him and at the end is rewarded for his loyalty and faith in God. I explained to her that sometimes our faithfulness is rewarded and sometimes it is not, and we as Christians have to be okay with that. And lastly, by questioning God, we gain wisdom, peace, and restoration about whatever is troubling us.

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5 thoughts on “Week 3: Conventional Wisdom

  1. AMEN! I know many people who say that “everything happens for a reason.” My response…”Maybe.”
    Maybe everything does and it is all part of a plan. God could do that if God wanted. Maybe some bad things happen for a reason. Did I create the earth? Do I know when a mountain goat is born? I, like you, am not going to speak to such proclamations of divine truth because I am not divine. I can look back on some tragedies and see that they did fulfill some sort of purpose.

    Maybe God “works all things for good” means that God can take any situation and produce good from it, even cancer. I have a friend who spent time in jail for some serious drug addiction. He is not a Christian but says, “everything happens for a reason…because I choose to make everything something good.” He chose to use his time in prison to rethink his life and he was determined to make it a stepping stone to recovery. I thought his comment was brilliant.

    Maybe everything happens as a product of circumstance and consequence. Maybe my father has ALS because he was exposed to chemicals as a farmer. Maybe there is a mutated gene they haven’t identified yet. Maybe I have that gene.
    Maybe God gave him ALS.
    Who knows? Not me.
    My dad has chosen to not let ALS define his life as he slowly degenerates toward death. My dad has chosen to be an inspiration to others by clinging to his faith throughout the slow and agonizing process.

    “Everything happens for a reason.”
    Maybe, maybe not. God only knows…and I’m okay with that.

    Thank you for sharing.
    I enjoyed your opening paragraph as a caricature of a tragically all-to-often response people have to other people’s tragedies.

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  2. I am of the same opinion as yours. You shared a good story of how to say something that really truthful and helpful to the suffering. I agree that we tend to give some niche comfort to them, trying to say things like, “It’s okay. You’ll be all right. God will take care of you, etc…” They sound pretty good, caring, comforting and encouraging. But we may be wrong.
    I think human beings tend to understand things in logical ways of conventional wisdom. We normally don’t understand God and His ways. For me, as a Christian student in this class, I need to learn to reason and understand in the way dissenting wisdom works so as to interpret and accept situations in my life. Job has that kind of guts to deal with his own wretched situation, but sometimes it seems absurd to him. Though he does not have all the answers to his questions [“of this kind of wisdom”], he recognizes his God is in control (Job 1:20-21). At times, we don’t understand what’s going on in our lives and keep asking the question, “Why did it just happen the way it was to me or to my beloved ones?”
    I totally agree with you that it is okay to not be okay. We may complain; we may lament in our seemingly ill-fated situation, but we also need a statement of trust and a vow of thanksgiving in our lament/complaint psalms as well. Through the Job lesson, we’ve learned that dissenting wisdom versus conventional wisdom, and that sometimes we are to suffer to understand it. I believe God has ultimate power over our lives.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts through the post.

    Daniel

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  3. Wow, good stuff! I can totally identify with both the response from your first paragraph (which is how I was raised) and your last paragraph (which reflects my world view now). Thanks for sharing this!

    I have a little different view of God’s response to Job. God does lay out an account of God’s power, but I don’t think God answers the question of blame or shows God’s self to be “blameless.” In fact, God doesn’t give Job much of an answer at all! Job says, “how dare you?!” And God says, “I’m God!” What this leaves me with personally, is that sometimes there is a disconnect between how we think the world is (or perhaps how we would like it to be) and our experience of it. And there doesn’t seem to be a convenient or easy answer to the question “why.”

    Thanks again for posting!

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  4. You offer excellent thoughts! Thank you for tackling this difficult topic. As I was reading it I thought about this material from the context of pastoral care and empathic listening. The dissenting wisdom of Job offers a good model of how to listen empathically without inserting our own agendas and truisms about God. It gives space for authentic feelings to be processed and for honest questioning of suffering and God’s action/inaction as it relates to suffering.

    I appreciate that you point out that Job’s wisdom came from “grappling with harsh realities” and God’s role in those realities. I wonder if that is why Job was restored, though. That part of the story seemed like too much of a neat and tidy ending to me! I also appreciate your suggestion that the friends were wrong in not allowing Job to question God and problems of suffering. In the end, much of it seems open-ended, which I think calls us deeper into relationship and conversation with the ultimately transcendent God.

    Thanks for helping me think through these things!

    Peace,
    Joan.

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  5. Pingback: Week 8 Make | ootleblog

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