Good morning! Today as we continue in the book of Proverbs (chapters 15-16), I find myself noticing the heavy reliance of this book on absolute binaries. The use of black/white binaries makes it simple to understand a complex issue, but oversimplifying a situation or presuming that human beings are less complicated than we are may lead to painful assumptions.
Dualisms are ever-present in the book of Proverbs, including these chapters. They show up in assumptions about the wicked/righteous, wise/foolish (or “scoffers”), hot-tempered/slow to anger, and lazy/upright, for starters. This presumes that a person is solidly in one camp rather than another, but I believe such an understanding is underdeveloped. In my experience, for example, a person can be on both sides of an affluence fence. She or he is wealthy in regard to the destitute on the street, but may not have the kind of money used to give away or spend on luxuries. Thus, even though a family is identified visually as among the leaders in a certain area, they may not feel “righteous” or “rich” or “upright” enough to count themselves on the “good” side of the proverb. How much better—though harder—it would be to identify parts of the wicked and the righteous in oneself and others, offering the benefit of the doubt when necessary and also offering the grace that comes with letting ourselves or others off the hook of perfection. This might make it easier to notice the parts of ourselves we consider to be “righteous” and “troublesome”, trusting that both can coexist in the same person. Then (and perhaps only then) we can fully open to what theologian Paul Tillich defined as grace—recognizing ourselves as accepted even while believing that we’re unacceptable. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts, but I find this a more honest depiction of the human condition than that most commonly found in Proverbs. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Proverbs 17-19. Thanks for reading!