For those of us who like to read, there are always a few books make all the difference in the world. For me, C. S. Lewis’ books have always been important. Mere Christianity was instrumental in my conversion to Christ. His Space Trilogy, and That Hideous Strength, have been important. The works of J.R.R. Tolkien formed my yearly life as a Christian. Our children grew up on The Chronicles of Narnia. One of my favorite books, which I read every so often is The Glass Bead Game by the German writer, Herman Hesse. (One day, I would like to be like the Music Master of that book I fear that I may be more like Joseph Knetch).
The first book to make a difference in my life was Charles Dickens’, A Tale of Two Cities, which I read in 7th Grade. A Tale of Two Cities is about two men in love with the same woman during the French Revolution. One of the men, Charles Darney, is a French aristocrat living in exile in England because he dislikes the aristocracy of his nation. The other man, Sidney Carton, is a drunken and morally dissolute lawyer’s assistant. Darney and Carton happen to look exactly alike. The woman they love, Lucy Mannette, is the daughter of a French physician. Lucy eventually marries the handsome, good, and dedicated Charles Darney.
Eventually, Darney undertakes a mission of mercy to France and is arrested as an aristocrat. He is unfairly condemned to die. Lucy Mannette and her father seek his release. They fail, and the evil Madame LaFarge plots to have Lucy and her young daughter killed. The night before Darney is to be executed and Lucy arrested, Sidney Carton arranges to change places with Charles Darney in his prison cell in the Bastille. The next day, Darney and Lucy escape France, while Carton dies in Darney’s place. His life is redeemed in the end. Carton’s last words are these: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
At one point in the book there is a line about Sidney Carton that forms me to this day. It goes like this:
Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away. 
Sidney Carton is a lost soul. When I first read the book, in fact the moment I read the line I just quoted, it seemed to me that I might become a man like Sidney Carton. I might be a person of good abilities and good intentions, incapable of their exercise for my own good. It is a warning and insight that has haunted me, followed me, and warned me throughout all the years since.
A Tale of Two Cities, describes the power of our choices. It is about consequences and redemption. The character of Sydney Carton is a warning—or at least it was to me. Every day we make choices about the kind of person we will be–and upon those choices the happiness or unhappiness of our live depends.
A Tale of Two Women.
In this blog, we are thinking about “A Tale of Two Women.” Every month for almost forty years, on the ninth day of the month, I read today’s text. It is, in some ways, my favorite chapter of my favorite book of the Bible, Proverbs. Here is the word of God as it comes to us from the voice of the Wise Men of israel:
Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her servants, and she calls from the highest point of the city, “Let all who are simple come to my house!” To those who have no sense she says, “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of insight.” Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse. Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you. Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer. Folly is an unruly woman; she is simple and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the highest point of the city, calling out to those who pass by, who go straight on their way, “Let all who are simple come to my house!” To those who have no sense she says, “Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!” But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead. (Proverbs 9:1-18)
God of Wisdom Who in Wisdom Created All Things and Us Included: Come by the power of your Holy Spirit so that your Spirit of Wisdom and Love may enter and transform our hearts. Amen.
The Call of Wisdom.
In Proverbs, wisdom is often personified as a woman calling to the human race. In today’s text, Lady Wisdom builds her home, fills her table with delicacies, and invites all who will to come to her banquet (9:1-6). In the earlier chapters, wisdom is personified as a woman sitting at the city gates, offering blessings to those who will hear. For example, the previous chapter begins as follows:
Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gate leading into the city, at the entrance, she cries aloud: “To you, O people, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. You who are simple, gain prudence; you who are foolish, set your hearts on it. Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness. All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning all of them are right; they are upright to those who have found knowledge Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her” (Proverbs 8:1-11).
We live in an overly-concrete, materialistic age. We have trouble understanding the deep truths embedded in proverbs, parables, stories, images, art and literature. The wisdom writers of Israel wanted us to see that, just as a person responds to the call of an attractive person of the opposite sex and/or intuitively seeks to acquire precious jewels and metals, wisdom calls our to us to develop the practical ability to respond to the challenges of life with grace, intelligence, and discernment. Depending upon how we respond to that call, our lives may be better or worse, successful or unsuccessful, happy or miserable.
The single greatest problem our society faces is a loss of faith in traditions, in religion (Christianity included), in traditional wisdom, and in the reality of invisible qualities of character, such as righteousness, justice and wisdom—qualities that we cannot be successful in life unless we develop. If our children and grandchildren are to have lives even a fraction as good as the life we have enjoyed, we need to recover our confidence in the existence of truth, of goodness, of justice, of wisdom, of fairness and find ways to teach the next generation about these qualities. Nevertheless, even in our society, wisdom is not without a witness. Wisdom is calling. The question is: “Are we listening?”
Trust-Faith: The First Big Step.
Chapter Nine of Proverbs is important for, among other things, the way in which the writer set the central teaching of Wisdom right in the center of the poem that makes up the chapter: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, and knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10). Over and over again in Psalms and in Proverbs this central teaching is repeated: The first step in becoming wise is to develop a healthy respect for God.
We modern people do not necessarily believe fear is a virtue, but it is. We human beings were given the capacity for fear in order that we might avoid things that are dangerous. Courage is not the absence of fear in dangerous situations; it is the ability to manage and overcome fear where necessary.
When I translate this saying, I often phrase what is being said something like this: “A Deep and awe-filled Respect for the Power and Wisdom of God is the beginning of wisdom.”  The idea is not that we should fear God as a we might fear a bad person. We ought to fear God as we fear the consequences of misbehavior as a child. More importantly, we ought to respect God. Coming to understand that failing to follow God’s ways is injurious to ourselves and others is the single most important, first step in becoming a well adjusted, wise, and successful human being.
I have mentioned before that my father had an old fraternity paddle that Tim, my brother, and I got to experience once in a while if we were very, very bad. (I had many more experiences with that paddle than did my brother!) My father never used the paddle unless it was absolutely necessary to make a point about really bad behavior. And, as a practical matter, one trip to his home office was enough to correct whatever bad behavior in which we had engaged. (Just to give an example, we once decided to see if we could derail a train on a Boy Scout camp out and very nearly succeeded. This was an offence that my father believed merited the paddle. After 52 years or so of thinking about it, I now think he was correct.)
This “fear” or “deep awe and respect” a believer has for God reveals itself in relationship of faith and trust—a faith and trust that allows the believer to experience the love and wisdom of God. In other words, just as the faith and trust a child is supposed to have for a parent enables the child to live based on the love of the parent, so also our faith and trust (respect for God’s wisdom, love and power) opens our lives to the wisdom God gives us for living.
The Importance of Resisting Temptation.
There are two women described in Proverbs 9. The beginning of Proverbs 9 describes Lady Wisdom. The end describes her opposite, Lady Folly. If Lady Wisdom builds her house and prepares a banquet of wisdom which will result in blessing for God’s people, Lady Folly brings the results of folly. The gift of lady Wisdom is the blessed life. On the other hand, Lady Folly seduces the human race into behavior that can only end in suffering, destruction, and death.
Once again, if repeatedly Proverbs describes Lady Wisdom as seeking to influence humanity by reason and good sense, Lady Folly is described as a kind of seductress attempting to seduce the human race to embrace folly. By using the image of a beautiful but dangerous woman, Proverbs reminds us that wisdom is not always attractive or apparent nor is folly always ugly and obvious. When the original Star Wars movie was made, and the character of Darth Vader introduced, I made a comment that the only problem with the character is that evil is not always ugly, obvious or scary as Darth Vader. Some of the most evil and dangerous people I have known were handsome, engaging, and fun. They were not scary. They were seductive. This is the message of the end of Proverbs 9.
Wisdom teaches us to look beneath the surface of things to see things as they really are. Modern media, and particularly visual media, has created in most people a tendency to look at the surface of an image for truth, for beauty, for goodness, for love, and the like. The surface of things does not necessarily reveal the reality of the thing. Things that look good on the surface often do not look good once we pierce beneath the surface.
One danger to young people is that our young people are often not experienced enough to evaluate the images they are seeing in movies, on TV, etc. Today, our young people are subjected to temptations at an age when prior generations would not have permitted the contact. Perhaps unfortunately, computers, the internet, and cable TV have made it almost impossible for parents to fully protect their children from dangerous images. I don’t have an answer to this problem, which Kathy and I have faced.
The Blessings of Wisdom.
We began this series with a quote from Revelation: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” (Revelation 1:3). As the early Christians remembered the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus they early on began to see in Jesus the very wisdom of God incarnate. When John wrote his gospel he described Jesus as the Word or Wisdom or Reason of God made incarnate (John 1:1). Paul describes Jesus as the very wisdom of God (the icon of God’s glory (Colossians 1:15).
To a Jew, wisdom was not some unearthly, mystical thing. In Hebrew, the root word underlying the word “wisdom” is the kind of shrewdness needed by a trader in a Middle Eastern bazaar. It is the ability to make wise choices in the practical things of life.
Proverbs is important as a source of God’s wisdom, but we must never forget that Christ is the ultimate source of our understanding of the wise life. As Jonathan Edwards said, “Christ is the true light of the world. It is through him alone that the true wisdom is imparted the mind.” In Christ we see something that no human being could possibly write down in such a way to transform our lives.
At the Cross, we see the wisdom and love of God revealed in such a way that we cannot help but be transformed as we trust in Him. In Jesus, the love of God and the wisdom of God are joined in such a way that we cannot just understand but also experience that love and be transformed by it. The Cross of Christ was so unexpected by the wise men of Israel and of the Greco-Roman world that it seemed to be a kind of foolishness, but that foolishness was in fact the Deep Wisdom of God (I Corinthians 1-2).
It is a mistake to hear the words of Paul as if it were meant to nullify wisdom or to indicate that God’s wisdom is a kind of foolishness. Instead, what Paul means is simple: While the deep wisdom of God may seem to be foolishness to the wise of this world, it is in fact the most practical thing of all. Why? Because in Christ, wisdom and love are, and will be, the most powerful force in all the world.
Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved
 The quotes are from Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. Because my books are all packed for our move, I cannot give you pages and other citation information. You can find these quotes easily on the internet.
 “Fear, as applied to God is the kind of deep awe, respect, reverence or piety appropriate to the God of Israel, the creator of the heavens and the earth, and the one God among all the false gods of the surrounding nations.” G. Christopher Scruggs, Path of Life: The Way of Wisdom for Christ Followers (Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014), 246.