Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Week Two: What does Perdue mean by "theology of the sages"?

             By “theology of the sages,” Perdue is describing a theology that weaves together themes of creation, providence, and wisdom (Perdue 15) in order to create a vision of who God is, who we are, and how these things are interconnected. I must admit that not long ago, I would have resisted any theology based on creation and providence. For most of my life I associated the term “creation” with literal creationism and “providence” with prosperity theology. My strong feelings about both of these topics caused me to avoid the larger themes all together. However, these associations are not accurate in light of wisdom theology. Rather, Perdue explains that for the sages, God is “revealed in the order and workings of the world and in acts of providence both in maintaining creation and in directing human history” (9). This is a theology that engages both creation and providence in ways that resonate with me. I was not introduced to the theme of order in the creation stories until my Bible classes at Bluffton, but learning that Genesis is about more than literal creationism has been a liberating experience for me. As Perdue explains, in wisdom theology God’s character is revealed in the order and workings of creation (9). While it is a relatively new development in my own theological understanding, I am learning to see creation as a portrait of God. 
              Providence, another central theme of the theology of the sages, is also revealed in the workings of creation (Perdue 9). The theology of the sages views God’s maintenance of creation as proof of God’s providence. Perdue explains this concept, saying that “the sages assumed that God was good, caring, and justice, for the world contained the materials necessary for human and other creatures’ survival” (9). This understanding of providence stands in stark contrast to the high expectations of providence we have in our culture today. In the theology of the sages, God’s providence seems like such a simple concept: if one has what one needs to survive, God is praised for God’s providence. Yet it seems like our theology of God’s providence has shifted so much that we are taught to judge God’s providence by whether or not God meets our wants, not our needs. While the sages’ theology of providence is based on the universal truth that the earth contains everything we need for survival, our Western theology of providence seems to be based on situational, selfish desires. I must say that I side with the sages on this issue of providence, but it is extraordinarily difficult to live out this theology in our Western culture that is permeated by a sense of entitlement.
            The last core theme of sapiential theology is wisdom (Perdue 15). In Perdue’s explanation of wisdom theology, he says that “for the sages, the ultimate object of the quest for knowledge was God” (9). Job 28.28 echoes this sentiment: “Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding” (NRSV). For the sages, seeking wisdom is seeking God, because wisdom is an integral part of God’s character (Perdue 29). Job 28.28 says that true wisdom is the reverence of God. The theme of wisdom in the theology of the sages is perhaps the most obvious; after all, this is wisdom literature. However, sapiential theology defines wisdom in a spiritual rather than intellectual way, and I find this intriguing. Job 28.28 defines wisdom not as earthly knowledge, but as “the fear of the Lord.” This is clearly spiritual language. I would argue that wisdom is a combination of knowledge and spirituality; while I believe knowledge and spirituality have a reciprocal relationship, I would place an emphasis on spirituality over knowledge. As someone who has chosen to study religion, I am especially interested in these dynamics as they play a role in my life every single day. I am looking forward to studying the theme of wisdom in the theology of the sages this semester, and I am curious to see how my understanding of wisdom, creation, and providence will change as I continue to study wisdom literature!

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