|Wisdom Calling at the Crossroads|
We Are the Good Guys!
The Road, written by Cormac McCarthy, is a famous novel, the main characters of which are a father and his 10-year-old son. One day, they are walking on a road amidst a global catastrophe. Is it a nuclear war? Is it climatic change? Is it the outbreak of a virus? We have no idea. However, the consequences are crystal clear. The whole society is torn apart and in chaos. Many are dead and those who survive loot clothes and food.
The son asks his father, "Who are they? Do they eat people? Are they bad guys?" His father replies, "They are all bad guys!" The son asks his father, "Will we eat people?" His father replies, "No." The son says, "Because we are the good guys!" His father responds, "Yes, because we are the good guys!"
What does "being the good guy" mean? In a broken world like ours, can people be good guys? For most of those who flee from their homes, their answer is: "I don't want to be the good guy! The most important thing is to survive!" This has been on the mind of the father during their journey, but the simple remark made by his son has reminded him: "We are the good guys!"
Throughout the past twelve months or so, not only is Hong Kong facing the novel coronavirus pandemic, just like the rest of the world, but it also has had to face uncertainties about its own future. Standing at this crossroads ─ where should we head? Are we the good guys? How can we be good guys?
To answer questions like these, the Bible has always been our best guide. The answer it provides is: listen to Wisdom's words carefully. Wisdom is hokmah (in Hebrew), sophia (in Greek) and Lady Wisdom, just like an intelligent woman. From Proverbs 8:22-31, we can see that Wisdom has been with the Lord ever since the beginning of the Creation. She was there when God set the heavens and seas in place. When God created the heavens, set the boundaries of the seas and established the foundations of the earth, Wisdom was at God's side, like a master workman. She says, "[T]hen I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man" (vv. 30f.).
On the path, Wisdom desires to be known. She does not go into hiding as she is not a secret treasure to be discovered and kept by the big shots only. Wisdom towers in the bright sunlight. She calls out at the highest point, beside the gate and at the crossroads (vv. 2f.). She calls out to all lives (v. 4). She loves those who love her (v. 17). Wisdom wants to be known; she raises her voice so that those on the way can all hear her.
Wisdom cries aloud, "To you, O men , I call, and my cry is to the children of man" (v. 4). Both "men" and "the children of man" refer to the human race. Wisdom has assigned her audience, which is everyone, including even the fools (1:22). Wisdom calls them all to step on the path of wisdom.
What advice does Wisdom give us? Proverbs chapter 8 has given us three tips.
First, Wisdom, standing at the crossroads, tells people to understand discernment. Verse 5: "You who are naive, discern wisdom! And you fools, understand discernment!" (NET; emphasis added). The "naive" are the simple ones who are uneducated or inexperienced people (1:4; 9:4). The "fools" are the foolish ones who are ignorant people and do not realize their own ignorance. Wisdom sends her invitation to everyone, including the simple and the foolish.
Regarding this point, Wisdom's words come in a forthright manner: "You simple ones and foolish ones, understand discernment!" In accordance with the explanation of Proverbs 1:7 ("Fearing the Lord is the beginning of discernment," NET), discernment denotes how people use their reason to face all sorts of difficulties in life while revering and fearing God. Those who understand discernment will make serious considerations before doing anything. They do not act on impulse; they are coolheaded. Discernment is a good prescription for simple-mindedness.
In recent years, a certain vein of anti-intellectualism has emerged from our society. We are opposed to expert advice; we refuse to listen to expert advice from sectors like medicine, politics, economics and meteorology; we do not like the conclusions those experts make. Very often, people put their own personal opinions first. We reject viewpoints that we do not like, and so we become simple-minded. On the contrary, discernment requires us to see clearly without being hypocritical or prejudiced. We have to listen to the opinions of those who consider things as they stand, i.e. people who are fact-oriented and will tell us honestly what they do and do not know.
Speak Noble Things
Second, Wisdom says noble things. Verse 6: "Hear, for I will speak noble things; and from my lips will come what is right" (emphasis added). "Hear" implies that the listener has to be ready to respond to the teacher's words (1:5, 8; 4:1, 10; 5:7; 7:24). The teacher's words are noble and right. "Noble things" are morally good and admirable; "right" means perfectly straight, upright and standing (8:6, 9; 1:3; 2:9). Wisdom encourages people to pursue virtue-laden knowledge, instead of mere knowledge. Specifically, this implies that one has to avoid spreading rumors or telling lies. People should not waste their precious time making accusations or ridiculing others. Instead, we have to set greater targets so that we may use our reason with virtue and give free vein to our creativity; even if we encounter setbacks, our focus should be on solving the problems. That is to say, if there are thistles and thorns on the way, remove them; if there are sand and stones, clear them all together.
Third, Wisdom demands us to speak the truth and hate lies. Wisdom says, "for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips" (v.7; emphasis added). Wisdom reminds us that our speech is important. Wisdom only speaks what is true. Her lips detest wickedness. This means: while we seek and speak the truth, we have to hate evil.
People's evil can be seen in the lies uttered by their lips. We cannot but admit that we are all liars. Anyone who claims that he/she never lies is lying. Humans are great liars who can lie as young as the age of two. We lie in our daily lives and we lie frequently, at church (or even at the seminary) and during chats. Some psychologists point out that an ordinary person lies on average twice or thrice a day. We lie to our family, friends and colleagues. We lie to strangers as well.
Why do we lie? Some try to rationalize lying. Some think that lying is inevitable. With lying being a trivial cost, things can proceed and we can get jobs done. Some others believe that they have to tell lies if they want to avoid anger and bitterness; they say lies are social lubricants.
Lying takes place not only in face-to-face interactions among people, but also on social media. The Internet was innocent at its inception, when people patiently explained to one another how they could act properly online. At that time, the Internet drew people together. However, things have changed now, partly because we have entered an era of social media where anyone can post whatever they want. We enjoy our freedom of speech, but we pay less and less regard to the responsibility for our speech and the authenticity of the information we pass on. What is more, news nowadays is more and more inclined to be like the presentation of opinions rather than objective facts. Worse still, we even create our own "facts." Some people simply ignore the difference between fact and opinion, regarding both as the same. Some even think that opinions are more important than facts; so, facts become secondary in terms of its importance.
Of course, some people do not confuse facts and opinions on purpose; they may just be expressing opinions to gain recognition from others. The problem is: when everyone is just expressing one's own opinions without factual support, inadvertently, they will be creating their own "facts." Consequently, just like lying, it will end up further covering up the truth, ultimately tearing apart the relationships among people and doing extensive harm to society. When the truth is ignored, there will no longer be unity within communities as the foundation of mutual trust is lost. Haven't we experienced this in our own family? Haven't we witnessed this at church? Haven't we seen this in the Hong Kong society?
Isn't such behavior just what the "naive" and "fools" as mentioned in Proverbs will do? Let's ponder over this: are we also being naive and foolish most of the time, having spoken something, pouring out big words and repeating what others say without doing fact-checks?
Therefore, when someone says, "Everyone has his own truth and opinions," I become increasingly less interested. However, please don't get me wrong! You can have your own opinions, but just as in the case when someone says the durian is the most delicious food, you don't have to argue with him. Everyone has the right to express one's own opinions, but the speaker cannot say he owns the truth.
While our mouths have to speak what is true, our lips have to detest wickedness. David fell in love with Bathsheba at the sight of her beauty and even slept with her. Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, but as David wished to possess her exclusively, he ordered Joab to put Uriah in the frontline of the battlefield, where Joab suddenly withdrew the troops, leaving Uriah in a dangerous situation facing the enemy on his own. As a result, Uriah died in the battle. David was not regretful. Nor did he have a crisis of conscience. The Lord sent His prophet Nathan to see David. At this moment, standing at the crossroads, would Nathan opt for risking his life in rebuking David?
When Nathan went to see David, he told him a story about two men, one of whom was rich while the other was poor. The rich man owned a large number of sheep and cattle while the poor man owned one little ewe lamb only. One day a guest came to the rich man's place. To show his hospitality, the rich man seized the little ewe lamb from the poor man and cooked it for the guest. Hearing the story, David said to Nathan, "The rich man must die." Nathan said to David, "You are the man!"
From the dialogue, we can see that David's wickedness had become a hidden evil. He did not see his own evil because he had become part of it. Standing at the crossroads, Nathan the prophet opted not to act falsely. He directly pointed out David's sin of adultery, proclaiming that God would punish him for the evil he had done. At this moment, David was also standing at the crossroads. He could have accused Nathan of committing lese-majesty and killed him, but he opted for another path. He felt great remorse and faced God sincerely. Just as described in Psalm 51:6-12, he begged God to treat him with His loving kindness and blot out his iniquity out of His great mercy. He desired to fill his inner self with God's truth. He desired to obtain wisdom.
Choices Made at the Crossroads
Likewise, at the crossroads of your life, have you not come across bad guys? How did you respond? Which path did you choose? Are you also a bad guy? Do you eat people? Would you like to be a good guy? Do you hear Wisdom calling out to you? Wisdom says, "Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right, for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips" (Prv 8:6-7). Wisdom demands that we listen and respond ─ to say noble things, to have our mouth speak what is true, and to have our lips detest wickedness. May we all hear, speak noble things, open our lips to speak what is right, have our mouth utter truth, and have our lips detest wickedness!
This year, the seminary is standing at the crossroads. In face of the numerous hurdles in teaching and learning and the various challenges in Hong Kong, I wish we could all pursue true knowledge, say noble things more, discuss what is right more. May our mouths speak what is true together and our lips detest wickedness together. More specifically, we have to pursue practical theology together, develop mission theology together, study the Bible and practice preaching together, practice lectio divina in the chapel services together, participate in theology salons together, ponder upon our ecclesiology and non-conformist ecclesiologies together. We have to discuss public theology together, understanding that the church is not only dealing with such an area as politics but also those of economics, culture and morality; we have to teach wholeheartedly so as to improve our teaching capabilities; we have to take care of the needy around us and nurture the youth, our next generation, particularly starting with the youngsters around us.
In short, we have to seek truth together, do more about true theology of life and practice it together; we have to move toward the wilderness, put out into deep water, climb up the high mountains and head for the plains, toward God's place. Amen!
|* This article is adapted from the writer's speech delivered at our Opening Convocation Ceremony (August 25, 2020). All Scripture quotations, unless indicated, are taken from the ESV.|