Friday, January 20, 2006

Good Without God?

Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People made a big splash a decade ago. Why? In one word: hokmaspondence. I just made that word up. The Hebrew word for wisdom in the Bible is hokma, which really has a much richer and broader range of meaning than simply wisdom. It refers to the order and structure of the cosmos -- the fabric of reality itself. That is why wisdom essentially means aligning yourself with reality -- living in correspondence to hokma.

Proverbs is replete with ideas like, "if you do such and such, then such and such will probably happen to you." These are generalizations, of course, and not absolutes. They simply describe hokma and how to live in hokmaspondence. It is foolish to ignore the Laws of Wisdom, just as it is foolish to ignore the Laws of Nature, such as gravity. Many ancient near-eastern (ANE) cultures had lists of proverbs very similar to our own, because these truths were pretty much obvious to any level-headed observer.

So what sets the Wisdom of the Bible apart from other ANE wisdom? The one thing that Proverbs (and Ecclesiastes) teaches that is truly unique, and is the foundation and starting point for all true wisdom -- the fear of the Lord. Without this, wise living can erode to mere moralism. Can we be good without God? Yes. Goodness in human effort alone, however, is a mere shadow of true human existence. In fact, it is an affront to God of the most egregious sort. Anyone can decide to live in hokmaspondence, but it is a hollow shell without the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Covey's book was a success because the principles it taught were probably true, in the sense that they describe real aspects of cosmic hokma. To follow them is wise, but such wisdom, pursued in human effort alone, is a dead end street. We do not worship and serve hokma, we worship and serve its Maker.


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