This is the next in a series of pastoral reflections from 2020 about academic research: “Researching Christianly.” Read the first post, “It Must Not Be This Way Among You.”
The terminal degree in most of our fields is doctor of philosophy—“philosophy,” of course, meaning “love of wisdom.” The wide purview of “wisdom” applied to all our fields (not just theology or ethics) has biblical precedent.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, “wisdom” (ḥoḵmâ) encompasses the eternal, universal transcendent laws that govern the operation of the universe. This includes not only principles governing moral behavior, but also the skill with which humans (and animals and plants!) individually pursue order, beauty, and flourishing. Wisdom was present with Yahweh at the creation of the world, personified even as a co-creator (Prov 3:19–20; 8:22–31).
Furthermore, wisdom is used to describe the technical skills necessary for the building of the Tabernacle (and later, the Temple):
Now YHWH spoke to Moses, saying, “See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship. And behold, I Myself have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of testimony, and the mercy seat upon it, and all the furniture of the tent, the table also and its utensils, and the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering also with all its utensils, and the laver and its stand, the woven garments as well, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, with which to carry on their priesthood; the anointing oil also, and the fragrant incense for the holy place, they are to make them according to all that I have commanded you.” (Exodus 31:1-11; cf. 2 Chr 2:12-14)
From this passage in Exodus, coupled with the uses of “wisdom” in Proverbs, it may be reasoned that the pursuit of all knowledge, concerning biology, patterns of human psychology and behavior, aesthetics, rhetoric, history, literature, language—as well as “applied” knowledge such as architecture, metallurgy, painting, welding, car repair—these all may be categorized as “wisdom.”
Bezalel and Oholiab (and Huram-abi in 2 Chr 2) likely had natural inclinations and endowments of skill and intellect from God, but had also practiced to hone their skills and craftsmanship. The Spirit of God then picks up Bezalel and Oholiab’s “wisdom,” and applies it to an even higher purpose: the building of a sanctuary where God can have fellowship with his people. These people serve a “priestly” role, even though they do not serve as priests per se—their vocation ushers people into YHWH’s presence.
Let us be reminded that our “wisdom” in our various disciplines is no less a gift from God, and its pursuit is no less a vocation (calling) from God, than the priests who served in the temple. As we discover truth, beauty, goodness and skill—and as we expound it for our colleagues and our students—we proclaim God’s truth, his beauty, and his goodness, and the skill with which he created the world. May we all be filled with the Spirit of God, who guides, sanctifies, and magnifies our efforts.
Ideally, I should ask myself frequently, “Am I ushering people into YHWH’s presence? Or at least helping them along the way there?”
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