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The biggest challenge of working systematically through a Bible book is that you can’t simply pick out the nice, easy passages. This is Wisdom speaking:
‘Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.’ Proverbs 1:24-33
Who’s this talking to?
It’s always important to look at these tough passages in context. Looking at the previous verses we’ve learnt that God defines foolishness as not having fear of the LORD, and it is these fools which Wisdom is addressing here. In other words, this passage is targeted at non-Christians.
Because, because, because, because, because…
There’s quite a significant introductory sentence to this passage which makes abundantly clear the reasons why Wisdom, who represents God, is saying what she is saying. Read it through and you’ll see that Wisdom initiated in a number of different ways, and the people just stiff-armed Him. Look at the things they’ve done: they refused to listen to her call, they did not heed her stretched-out hand, they ignored her counsel, they wouldn’t listen to her reproof, they hated her knowledge, and they didn’t choose the fear of the LORD. The blame for the consequences listed in this passage sits squarely with the people. They’ve been given plenty of opportunities to avoid the unpleasantness, but have not taken them.
The knee-jerk reaction for most people when reading a passage like this is ‘but that doesn’t seem very fair! How mean of Wisdom to mock when terror strikes!’ The simple truth is that non-Christians have been given innumerable opportunities to escape from this insane wrath, yet they have actively chosen not to take them. This punishment is deserved. God is fair, just, and kind when He sees distress and anguish coming upon those who have actively rejected His help and says ‘this is your fault’.
But God seems mean
He does, doesn’t He? This passage would suggest that it’s describing hell (the eternal consequences for unbelievers’ sin), and that the suffering souls call to God and He says ‘no, too late’. But I don’t think that’s the case. Have a look at the particular words used to describe God’s response: ‘they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices’ – again, the fact that God will not respond is their fault. This same idea is mirrored in the language of Romans 1, where Paul writes that God ‘gave them up’ to their sin. God pursues and pursues and pursues, but if someone is dead set against receiving His grace, He will hand them what they have been begging for, even though they will not like it.
John Piper explained this well in a blog post when he talked about the consequences of our actions. He said that a person who enjoys excessive amounts of food is effectively begging to become obese and unhealthy. Of course, no-one wants to get fat, but it’s the clear and well-understood consequence of a person’s actions. Similarly, no-one smokes in order to get breathing problems or lung cancer. If it happens, however, it’s an obvious result of that person’s actions. C. S. Lewis summed this entire idea up so well when he said, ‘There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’
Are you a Christian? If not, you should read this Bible passage again, very carefully. Clearly you don’t believe in hell and Jesus being alive and everything else, but if you’re going to say that you must also be comfortable saying that, if it is all real, you are happy with God’s just wrath being poured out on you. I’m sure that God does seem mean, but there is good news. The wrath that you have earned, that punishment that you deserve, has already been poured out on a substitute. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified as a criminal despite the fact he had done nothing wrong, and in that historical event he won eternal life and joy for all who will accept the saving hand of God. If you, by faith, will accept that your punishment has already been spent on him, you will be raised into new life as he was. The same promise given in this passage will be for you: ‘whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease’. If you do, please contact me.
If you already are a Christian, you should respond too. We must accept the truth of hell. Now, having accepted that, think for a moment about those you know who are not Christians. Family members, friends, colleagues, customers, the ice cream man…if they have not accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour, that eternal torment is also their destiny. The idea of hell must serve as a kick up our behinds to get into conversations with those around us who don’t know Jesus and to be God’s stretched-out hand in our communities.