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Where can Wisdom be found? Fearing God and Shunning Evil as Transformation

By Grace Al-Zoughbi

In surveying the calamites of the twenty-first century, particularly in our Middle Eastern region, it becomes important to be reminded that true wisdom cannot be found without reference to God. Wisdom is nowadays sought in debatable and deceptive places. “To fear the Lord” and “to shun evil” is the only way to live an earthly life pleasing to God. (Job 28:28). We often wonder what is the wisdom that can be gained from experiencing trauma in life, and the book of Job shows us that even at the heart of such hopelessness, there can be found a wisdom which can provide healing for the past and the opening up of a better future. Does this not speak of the transforming effect of disaster and calamity? Transformation comes not in the event itself, but in the desire to seek the ways of God in it all.

In the hymn in Job 28 we can see Job moving toward a spiritual transformation that begins with v. 28 and continues as an ongoing process, reaching a climax in chapter 42. The transformation is particularly seen in the deepening of Job’s faith. Connecting my own experience of distress in the present situation in Palestine propels me to further reflect on the meaning and value of seeking God’s wisdom from Job, applying it to the distress of the current disaster and suffering in Palestine.

The wisdom provided by “fearing the Lord and shunning evil” becomes poignant as we experience anguish related to the specific calamity of the past six months in Palestine. By trusting that God is with us in our suffering, that He has not forgotten us, our faith is anchored in the very fact that God is in the scene, and that He is bigger than all the injustices we have to endure. Wisdom is not necessarily the ability to find answers for our questions during the time of suffering (as Job and his friends were seeking to do) but in our commitment and intention to fear the Lord and shun evil even when life hurts, even when we are stripped away from all sources of comfort, freedom, and rights. What brings healing and repair to our current crisis is not the anger of man, or the pride of a sinner, not the wisdom of kings, nor international summits. Through decades of anguish only one thing holds true, the faithfulness and wisdom of God as it transpires in Job 28.

Three sections within the poem serve as a gradual development of how to invest our energy in living wisely as we fear the Lord:

Verses 1-11 illustrate human technical skills in the process of mining the most valuable and hardest-to-find jewels: wisdom (hokma) and understanding (binah). Building on the metaphor, gold and silver have mines; God is considered the mine for wisdom.

Verses 12-19 explain that the most distant parts of creation (the abyss, the sea) have no knowledge of where wisdom can be found. No creature knows wisdom’s location, as observed from verse 13.

Verses 20-27 focus on God’s character and conclude that His wisdom cannot be man’s, but man’s wisdom will be to fear Him (and thereby bring joy to God). Mankind’s quest for wisdom is hindered by limitations; however pursuing God’s way is promising.

Coming, then, to Job 28:28, “And unto man he said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding’” (ESV). This verse can be seen as a lens to track wisdom, starting from the prologue and continuing throughout the whole book. In the opening lines of the book, Job is introduced as a man who “fears God” and “shuns evil” (1:1). These qualities, at the heart of God’s wisdom, are the key to answering Job’s burning question: “Where Shall wisdom be found?”

The fear of the Lord refers to the humble acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty as ruler of His creation, giving God absolute trust and commitment. I understand this wisdom to be a maturing understanding of who God is. Job questions, wrestles with, and reasons with God, coming to the conclusion that God’s wisdom is beyond his understanding, yet is made accessible to him via “the fear of the Lord” as a gift from Him. This is a key step in Job’s spiritual transformation.

Turning from evil in this context implies avoiding actions that distort the righteous order of creation and lead to destroying one’s self, community and world. Human nature does not naturally follow God’s wisdom of shunning evil. On the contrary, human wisdom often leads to courting evil to seek personal gain. This message of shunning evil along the path toward wisdom is transformative on the spiritual level, and continues to be evidenced in Job’s life as his reactions towards God illustrate a change in his thoughts, words, questions and reflections.

Transformation in Job’s life is an ongoing process: his breakthrough comes in 28:28 as he realizes the worth of clinging to God’s way, and carries on towards chapter 42 and what he daringly declares in Job 42:5: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (ESV). Job’s faith in God’s wisdom was deepened right in the midst of being challenged. He did not have to experience immediate healing for his wounds; his transformation was established through his trust in God.  Job’s worldly comfort was taken away – as much of our own comfort nowadays in a war-torn land – yet He still desired to reach out to God. Job’s worldview must have been transformed through continuing to demonstrate faith and trust in God despite the apparently unjust calamity that fell on this “upright and blameless” man (Job 2:3).

Through the very process of seeking wisdom, we too, just as Job, will be transformed in the very act of seeking God. Spiritual transformation will lead us to a point, not of fearing God to no avail, but of instead desiring and loving God. Job 28 is an example of a place where wisdom connects God and man. Yet, God’s transformation does not necessarily have to be a sudden epiphany or an abrupt revelation. It could also be an ongoing process of an individual growing in their sense of agency. God knows wisdom intimately (Job 28:23); therefore, we ought to seek God intimately to be able to have access to His wisdom and be transformed: primarily spiritually in connecting with God, but consequently on every other level as well – including in the way we relate to one another and identify with one another’s suffering.

This truth should be a priority that we communicate to learners in theological education, the ability to connect the spiritual with the practical, thus bringing the notion of Holy wisdom down to the level of humanity. Theological education should be integrative, in that theology is applied to Christian life and ministry situations and has a strong intention towards godly living and witness, not merely concepts; application should involve the deep needs of learners, which includes obtaining wisdom for righteous living here (in the Middle East) and now (in this prevailing crisis). As we see students suffer in different ways all throughout the Arab region, we must remember to encourage one another and keep our eyes focused on God. As the apostle James aptly encourages us, let us ask wisdom of God, and He will give generously (James 1: 5). Amen.

Grace Al-Zoughbi is a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem. She is on faculty at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, and is passionate about the development of theological education in the Middle East. 

1 Comment

  1. Ken Little says:

    Thank you Grace for a very thoughtful and insightful reflection on what we can learn from Job. I am wondering how you would integrate Jesus and His life of love into these reflections on wisdom? Particularly Jesus’s teaching on loving and praying for enemies.

    Ken Little

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