Saturday, November 30, 2013

Proverbially Speaking - Finding the Wisdom

With 1,100 or so Verses in Proverbs, How do You Find Your Wisdom?
Ned Barnett

To me, The Book of Proverbs is like God's Instruction Book for Life. In just 31 brief Chapters, each with 30 to 40 verses - and with almost every verse containing two precious gold-nuggets of wisdom, the Book of Proverbs really does provide readers with an exceptional guidebook for living their life to the fullest by following God's Wisdom.

But with all that wonderful information at my fingertips, how do I find the wisdom God has put there for me?

That's the question I asked myself a week or so ago.

I know some people find value in flipping open the book, picking a page at random, running their finger down the page, then reading whatever the finger lands on.  They believe (and who am I to doubt this) that by using Proverbs (or the Bible itself) as some kind of cosmic Ouiji Board, they'll find guidance.   I've tried that, but I don't think that's what God has in mind for me.  Perhaps I'm too logical, or perhaps I'm torn between Moses ("Cut not the corners of thy head, nor round the corners of thy beard, for I am the Lord" - Leviticus 19, as best I remember it) and Paul ("Long hair is a woman's glory and a man's shame" - one of Paul's epistles, again, as I remember it).

Others choose to commit things to memory - but for me, the old joke applies ... "memory is the second thing to go ... and I can't remember what went first."

For me, I'd rather have a workable and methodical way of finding the Wisdom that I know God has waiting for me in Proverbs.

Back in 2010, I thought about putting together some kind of digital database - a great idea, but I'm really not a "digital database" kind of guy.  Still, the idea of pulling together all of the Wisdom of Proverbs in some kind of topical form really did appeal to me - in principle.

As I said, I'd asked myself that same question in 2010, the last time I went through Proverbs chapter by chapter over a month's time.  Like many people, I have found that Proverbs is a perfect book to read more or less in one big gulp.  It has 31 Chapters, so it's ideal for a one-a-day-for-a-month kind of reading self-assignment.  That's what I did in 2010 - I read one chapter a month for 31 days - and that's what I found myself doing in November of 2013.

And as I did, I came across the same thought I had in 2010:

"Wouldn't it be really helpful, if only to me personally, if all of the Wisdom in Proverbs was organized topically?  Wouldn't it be great if I could turn to that book and - in just a moment, and with certainty - find exactly what I needed to guide me, inspire me, "convict" me of something I'm doing wrong, or motivate me to follow God's instructions.

However, this time, I was reading Proverbs in the New Living Translation (a great "study" translation) that had been pulled together by Jud Wilhite, Senior Pastor at Central Christian Church in Henderson (suburban Las Vegas).  He had taken that great translation, gone through and highlighted the verses that meant the most to him ("If God is for us, who can be against us?"), then also inserted a dozen or so 15-page essays (super-blogs, if you will) on issues that anyone studying the bible would welcome.  The result, his book:  "The Uncensored Truth Bible for New Beginnings," is a very insightful guide, as well as a wonderful biblical translation.

  I sat down and read each one of those super-blogs of Jud's - then, after reading a few of the shorter old and new testament books as a kind of warm-up exercise, I turned to Proverbs.

Perhaps it was because this version of the bible included someone's personal interpretation (I'm not sure, but that answer "feels right"), but I began thinking once again about how I could get more out of Proverbs. After rejecting (again) the idea of creating a digital database, I thought, "why not take each chapter, one at a time, then divide each set of verses into a broad topical arrangement?"

For instance, there is a lot in Proverbs about fools, and about people who are wise.  So, hypothetically, you might find a verse that reads, "The fool runs his mouth, but the wise man chooses his words carefully."  That could easily be sorted into a broad section (Fools and the Wise), and then more specifically into sub-sections "Fools Talk Too Much" and "Wise Persons Think Before Speaking."

After a few days of contemplating this, I began taking the Book of Proverbs, one chapter at a time, and dividing the verses into broad subject areas. At first, I had a dozen, then 24, now probably 36 different broad topical areas.  The deeper I did into Proverbs, the more vital and distinctive topic areas I find.

Best of all, I found it was relatively easy to assign each verse to at least one or two topical sections, and some verses fit under three or four topics.  I was on my way.

However, once I had the first 13 chapters divided up, I realized that I was too focused on sorting verses by Chapter - for instance, all of the verses about fools from Chapter 12 were batched together - rather than honing this down to just a topical focus.  Having the comments from many chapters on the same broad topic now together, I was able to see that very similar pieces of wisdom were presented in different chapters, and that those topically-similar verses had more in common, one with the other, than they did with other same-topic verses from a single chapter.

Suddenly, with a flash (not Paul's, but an eye-opener nonetheless), I realized to get the most value out of this exercise, I was going to need to put the topically most-closely-related verses together - not by chapter but by message - if this effort was to help me (or help the proverbial "other" reader) get the most out of this labor of love.

Rather than heaving baby and bathwater out with the same heave-ho, I've decided to continue the broad sorting I'd begun, taking it through to the end of the Book of Proverbs. Then, once it's all together, I'll be better able to analyze each broad topic area, then come up with reasonable topical sub-divisions (and maybe sub-sub-sub-divisions).  In this way, I can refine the sorting process until what I have is the best reference tool I can craft, starting with the Book of Proverbs.

This new, revised process will clearly take longer - probably a lot longer - but the end result will be more helpful.  To me, and - I hope - to others.

Along the way, a publisher who's a friend of mine has already offered to publish this when it's done.  I was telling him about this project, not to seek a publisher, but to share with a friend who's also deeply spiritual what I've been doing - and his enthusiasm was immediate.

So now I'll be thinking about sources (I'm not a bible translator, so I'll need to use someone else's translation), and that means obtaining the rights.  Either that (my first choice) or I'll have to settle on an older translation, one that's long-since been in the public domain.  However, those older translations bring in their own level of potential confusion - King James, for instance, is beautiful and inspired poetry, but unless you're a Shakespearean scholar, some turns of phrase in the KJV might be less than elucidating.

However, one way or the other, I intend to complete this personal labor of love, and if others agree that it has value, I'll try to find some way of publishing the book, sharing this resource tool with others.

Finally:  To the reader of this blog.  I'd be very interested in your insights.  You can reach me directly at ned.barnett (at) gmail (dot) com, and when you do, please share with me any thoughts you might have.  Literally, the more the merrier.

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