Imagine the life you know being completely upended. The things you found comfort in are gone. The symbols that were important to you are destroyed. Imagine further being forced to move -- not just neighbourhoods, but to a new land that is unfamiliar and entirely foreign.
This is a situation similar to what Israel experienced in the exile -- a period of time where most of the people were displaced from Israel proper into other lands occupied and controlled by other nations (most notably Assyria and Babylon).
The temple was destroyed. They had to leave their land. There was no king. All of these symbols, which for them represented promises from God about his faithfulness to them and his presence among them, were gone. And if the symbols were gone, perhaps that meant God himself was gone.
In exile, Israelite faith underwent a resurgence of sorts. The wisdom literature rose to prominence during this time. These books (the final-form Psalter, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Job) asked questions and explored themes about finding God in the absence of the tradition, about the justice of God, and about faithfulness to God even if he didn’t appear to be faithful to them.
This is a good image for mission in a secular culture. Christian symbols no longer play like they once did. Church buildings are more likely to be perceived as cultural or heritage symbols than as places of hope and worship. Christianity is no longer the predominant voice, religion, or culture. Christians are, in many ways, wandering through a metaphorical wilderness in exile.
The wisdom literature is both instructive and formative in this context. In this article, while initiating a broader engagement with the wisdom literature, I want to narrow in on Proverbs 1. It is well known that the Proverbs 1-9 is an introduction to the book, quite different in form than the rest of the book. Many of these chapters contain monologues from a “father” figure, or Lady Wisdom herself, admonitioning listeners to perceive, understand, and follow the way of wisdom set within.
Wisdom has but one path. When religious symbols and markers are gone, where our religion is no longer commonly accepted as authoritative, where do we go? We walk in the way of the fear of the Lord. Rather than a religion that is built around symbols and cultural assimilation of those symbols, we focus on a way of life that is built upon and around the wisdom of the Lord and the fear of him -- and fools despise these things.
The way of God becomes translated through wisdom from a predominant way of “rule” over others to a way of living within the culture as an underdog, of sorts, with a distinct and alternative way of life. We are exiles, and wisdom is our way.