Are the Lectionary folks winking at us a bit with this text selection for Trinity Sunday? Obviously you don’t get any robust Trinitarian texts anywhere in the Old Testament. If it is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit you are looking for—or any combo of a couple of those at least—then Proverbs or Psalms or anywhere else in the Hebrew Scriptures are not the place to go.
Still, there are plenty of texts that speak of a “spirit” of God (and some translations tip their Trinitarian hand when they translate that into “Spirit” with a capital “S”). Now and then there is even some sense of the Word of God going forth (think Isaiah 55). In truth, however, the closest we get in the Old Testament to something akin to what we might regard as a kind of Person associated with Yahweh is what we get in Proverbs: Wisdom.
Wisdom is personified in Proverbs as a female character and in many places is the foil to Lady Folly. Wisdom is never identified as being divine per se. Few pious Israelites steeped in the monotheism that declared Yahweh to be the one true God of the cosmos would ever have tumbled to the idea that perhaps Wisdom, too, is worthy of some kind of worship or divine status. At most one might concluded that Wisdom is a personified attribute of Yahweh or possibly that Wisdom was some angelic-like being. But nothing about Wisdom in Proverbs would have tilted anyone to where Christians eventually went with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
And yet . . . it would be hard to deny that a straight-up reading of Proverbs 8 conveys the sense that you are being addressed by a real being of some kind. Wisdom has a voice. Wisdom can speak in the first person. Later beginning in verse 22 we are told that Wisdom is real, albeit a created entity and so clearly not divine like Yahweh but perhaps a semi-divine being like an angel. What’s more, the creation of Wisdom predates the creation of the universe because Wisdom claims to have been present when the wonders of this cosmos came into being.
To note that this is all quite intriguing is an understatement. Then again, Proverbs does traffic in poetic speech and metaphor and so some hesitation is warranted in claiming that we can know too much about this divine companion to Yahweh who helped oversee the creation. Still, by the time you get to the New Testament when the Apostle Paul starts to refer to Jesus as “the Wisdom of God” in a way not too terribly distinct from how the Apostle John referred to the “Word of God” in John 1, you start to wonder about connecting some dots.
Again, since Proverbs 8 is assigned as a Trinity Sunday text, you have to conclude that there is some desire to have our minds wander in precisely this kind of direction. John tells us that the Son of God whom we now know as the incarnate Jesus of Nazareth was the active “Word” of God who spoke the cosmos into being. As Frederick Dale Bruner notes, the New Testament reveals to us who it was speaking all those “Let there be . . .” lines in Genesis 1. So could this Word of God be also in some sense the Wisdom of God? Even if we set aside the Arius-like references to Wisdom’s having been in some sense created or birthed, does the personification of Wisdom connect in any way to the One we now know to be Christ Jesus the Lord and is it in this sense that someone thinks Proverbs 8 might have a role to play on Trinity Sunday?
Honestly, I have no idea! But I suspect the author and final editor of Proverbs did not have any such lofty theology in mind. At the same time, however, the ways in which I believe in the inspiration of Scripture makes me affirm that most biblical authors—under the influence of the Holy Spirit—told more than they knew. It is fully possible—and I think also highly likely—that lots of things written down by the people who penned the Bible went on to have greater and deeper theological and spiritual resonances, implications, and applications than they could have dreamed of.
So perhaps the Son of God now known as Jesus was not per se just Lady Wisdom any more than the Son of God is just identical with every word God ever spoke in Scripture/history even if this Son of God is also the active Word of God. But there are connections to be made. The Son of God was the active agent in creation and on that score the New Testament in places like John 1 and Colossians 1 leaves no doubt. And so if it turns out that this same Second Person of the Trinity is also in some sense the Wisdom of God, that ought not be overly surprising, either.
In addition to the connection to creation that we see in Proverbs 8—akin to the Son of God’s connection to creation in Colossians 1—there is also the sense that the Son of God is the embodiment of Wisdom in the 1 Corinthians 1 sense as well. If this Wisdom was there when this creation came to be in the beginning, then this Wisdom has a lot to do with how we get to New Creation as well. But getting there is the stuff of mystery, of a counter wisdom to the world’s way or getting things done or reckoning value.
So when in Proverbs 8 Wisdom calls out to us to listen, to pay attention, it is not too much of a reach to hear also the call to embrace God’s apparently upside-down way of getting things done by way of a cross and the death of God’s own Son. In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom is the clear opposite of Lady Folly even as in the wider witness of Scripture God’s Wisdom is the clear opposite of what the world regards as fruitful, powerful, effective.
On Trinity Sunday it is good to proclaim once more the mystery of the Triune God but also the wonder of how the Persons within this God always work in concert with one another to bring about creation, life, redemption, and finally also the New Creation.
From Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1973, p. 93).
“Father, Son, and Holy Spirit mean that the mystery beyond us, the mystery among us, and the mystery within us are all the same mystery. Thus the Trinity is a way of saying something about us and the way we experience God. The Trinity is also a way of saying something about God and the way he is within himself, i.e., God does not need the Creation in order to have something to love because within himself love happens. In other words, the love God is is love not as a noun but as a verb. This verb is reflexive as well as transitive.”
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Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 12, 2022
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 Commentary