Sometimes a well-meaning facebook post can be unhelpful. Take the image below that appeared in one of my friends facebook feeds recently.
My friend, who is a lifelong faithful person, posted this image with her own words that read “Not sure about this one anymore!” Her response comes from her recent struggles as she remains the sole carer for a relative with dementia.
Sometimes the way we use scripture can be unhelpful. It is reasonable for someone who has been deeply faithful all their life to wonder “How much trust is enough before you will make my path straight?”
Proverbs is part of the Wisdom literature in the Hebrew Scriptures. These books also include Job and Ecclesiastes. It is essential to read them together rather than extract one short phrase. I have no doubt that this verse has brought comfort to many a faithful person but as we have seen it might also cause another to question if God is indeed faithful.
Proverbs begin and ends with a story about a woman. Most people are familiar with the Proverbs 31 woman who seems impressive and probably requires a blog all of her own. It is worth saying that taking this character in isolation is also problematic. There have been many a person who has felt themselves inadequate when held next to the lofty example of this “Capable Wife.” see Prov 31.10-31
Proverbs start with a character called Sophia who embodies the embedded wisdom in God’s creation.
Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice. Prov 1.20
Sophia reminds me of what C.S. Lewis calls deep magic in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” In the book, this deep magic seems to be woven into the fabric of the world. If one was to act against this deep magic, it was to place one’s life in the hands of the worlds chaotic and evil forces. The voice of Sophia pleads with the passer-by not to ignore God’s wisdom.
Proverbs speak clearly of the importance of following God’s wisdom, but I am not convinced it means to assure us that all will be well. One only has to read on into Job to see clearly expressed there that strange but familiar experience that life is not always fair. That in fact, our lives are often shaped not only by our choices both good and bad but by the decisions of those around us as well as the occasional random piece of bad luck. I think one thing we learn from Job is that sometimes there is just no explanation as to why.
I admire those for whom the phrase in Proverbs rings true in all circumstances. My experience tells me there are many for whom this assurance can feel hollow. Can I suggest that the God celebrated in Proverbs, Job and the rest of scripture is not a magical fixer of all things? I think God is more impressive than that. My faith in God is not the seeking of a rosy existence. It is so when life is difficult, and we are not sure anymore about whether we will know “the straight path again” that we can lean deeper into God who is trustworthy and faithful. A God who can bear with us amid difficulty, exhaustion and despair while at the same time leading us into Joy!
I’ll take Joy over straight paths any day!