The Evolution of God by Robert Wright

 

excerpt from
CHAPTER NINE

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Taken as a whole, the wisdom literature isn’t saying that evil is always punished via social consequence, or that bad people never thrive. Indeed, the literature is peppered with laments of earthly injustice. Still, its upshot is that there are statistically valid generalizations about the consequences of behavior—that virtue is usually rewarded and wrongdoing usually punished. The wisdom literature is meant to rest largely on a science of human behavior, and there lies part of its modernity; it sees the social world as an extension of the natural world and both worlds as amenable to empirical study. (“The north wind produces rain, and a backbiting tongue, angry looks,” says Proverbs.) In searching for statistical regularity beneath the seeming chaos and complexity of life, the wisdom literature senses “an order which is at work behind the experiences,” as Gerhard von Rad wrote in his classic book Wisdom in Israel.

And where does the order come from? Here is the pivot point between the scientific and the theological. The order at work is the Logos, and it came originally from God. He set up the world so that mere self-interested learning—the study of cause and effect, and preference for happy effects—would steer people toward virtue. So when Proverbs reports that “whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on the one who starts it rolling,” we can think of God not as pushing people into pits and pushing stones back on people, but as the one who designed the social “gravity” that brings these effects. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t have to spend all his time hurling thunderbolts—because here on earth, everything is under control, in accordance with the original plan, the Logos.

In this worldview, there is little difference between a scientist’s faith—faith in the orderly laws that govern the world—and religious faith. As von Rad puts it, “in proverbial wisdom, there is faith in the stability of the elementary relationships between man and man, faith in the similarity of men and of their reactions, faith in the reliability of the orders which support human life and thus, implicitly or explicitly, faith in God who put these orders into operation.”

By the same token, coming to terms with this social order (learning that behaving badly tends to bring painful consequences) is coming to terms with God. The book of Proverbs may stress the mundane social forces that bring punishment to sinners—warning would-be adulterers to fear jealous husbands—but it also asserts that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Lady Wisdom, in Proverbs, says, “My child, if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments within you … if you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding … then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”

This is the link between the two wisdoms, the everyday garden-variety wisdom of human beings and the Wisdom of God: God was so wise that he set up a world in which the rational pursuit of self-interest leads people to wisdom. This explains why Lady Wisdom, in Proverbs, can play her two roles. She is both God’s own Wisdom—the Wisdom that went into the initial design of the world, when she was God’s “master worker” as he “marked out the foundations of the earth”—and the giver of wisdom to humans. For the Wisdom of the world’s initial design was that it would lead human beings toward wisdom.

 

 

 

 

 

 


“One World, Under God”
(The Atlantic article)