Columnists > Voices

Wisdom vs. Folly

The abortion battle is the latest installment of a struggle older than Solomon

Issue: "Hope or hype?," Jan. 20, 2007

We live in cacophonous times. Many competing voices-from media and public institutions, from pop idols and the educational elite-offer views on how we should construct (and deconstruct) the notion of "life." As a result, it is often difficult for those committed to the sanctity of life to think clearly and to act prudently.

This is precisely the reason why chapter 9 of Proverbs-with its central verse, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom"-helps. Proverbs 9 filters out the extraneous noise by reducing all these cacophonies to two fundamental voices. The first is the voice of wisdom. As the text poetically describes it, Wisdom spreads her table with the richest of food and the best of vintage wine. Wisdom then invites all who are open and willing to listen to sit at her table and share these blessings.

Another woman, though, raises her voice alongside Wisdom. Her name is Folly. Like Wisdom, she opens her house to those who would enter. But once inside, her offerings lead to furtive pleasure and death. Those two voices cry out as much today as they have in every age. In spite of our technological sophistication, scientific terminology, and organizational clout, we still live in a world of two choices: wisdom and folly.

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Given the descriptions of wisdom throughout the Old and New Testaments, it is clear that the voice of wisdom calls us today (as it has in every age) to recognize the value of every human life and to appreciate its sanctity at all stages. Those in the past who listened to the voice of wisdom persevered to protect the weak, the helpless, the marginalized, and the oppressed. They rejected those voices that would reduce humanity to an economic barter. We should do the same.

When we stand steadfast we invariably encounter opposition: "The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, 'Whoever is simple, let him turn in here.'" For many, the simple solution amid crisis is abortion. Yet Wisdom calls out, "Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight."

The fear of the Lord is the first step toward walking in that way-and, as Solomon suggests, it is the necessary step, onto the path that leads to wisdom's house. For the common cause, we should welcome into the pro-life movement those who defend life but are unconvinced on matters of God's existence, goodness, and grace. And yet, the prime reason to be pro-life is out of reverence to God as Life Giver, Life Sustainer, Life Redeemer, and (properly understood) Life Taker.

If we keep this first thing first, then we will simultaneously hold fast to our other goals. The fear of the Lord restores perspective when the battle seems to turn against life, for the Lord is sovereign, and in the end His wisdom and righteousness will win out. The fear of the Lord gives us guidance about our responses in a culture of death. In our pursuit of life, we must not adopt the attitudes and ways of those with whom we disagree. If we fear opposition, fear of failure can displace the fear of the Lord. It is far better to be guided by humble faith in divine wisdom.

The fear of the Lord frees us to give thanks for victories and successes. To climb a rugged mountain and gaze down upon a hushed valley, and at that moment have no one greater to receive our thanks-that is glove without hand, lyric without tune. Similarly, when researchers discover that the brain activity of a woman in a vegetative state is more complicated than earlier imagined, and that we should therefore be more cautious in presuming death, to whom shall we give thanks? To the Lord-for the fear of Him, along with heartfelt appreciation for His goodness, is the beginning of wisdom.

Rising above the cacophony, let us press on in wise pursuit of a culture of life, and let us do so in the fear of the Lord, for He alone gives, sustains, takes, and redeems life.

Matthew P. Ristuccia
Matthew P. Ristuccia

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