Brian W. Davidson

sharing things I enjoy

Word Limits

Sometimes we want more from words than they can give. We want them to be true in all ways all the time. This just isn’t how communication works.

In an earlier post, I mentioned how the advice Burr gave Hamilton — “Talk less; smile more.” — was a mix of good and bad advice in the context of the musical. This morning, I’m thinking similar thoughts with Proverbs 16:7:

When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.

One could say this proverb conflicts with the portrait of Jesus in the Gospels. According to the Gospels, Jesus’s ways were pleasing to God, but he had real enemies who eventually killed him. So, someone might say, Proverbs 16:7 contradicts the Gospels.

I just want to point out that people don’t often speak or write with every potential application of their words in mind. When Burr first told Hamilton, “Talk less; smile more,” Hamilton did need to calm down. He had just punched the bursar, for crying out loud. In Burr’s life, however, those same words were a recipe for conflict avoidance and self-preservation.

So also, here in Proverbs 16:7, the point to is pretty clear. Many times a gentle, wise soul can soften the heart of their enemies. One who walks with wisdom can often navigate the world in a way that doesn’t provoke others with asinine behavior. The life of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels, however, shows what Proverbs 16:7 doesn’t mean. The proverb doesn’t mean that if you live rightly you will never have enemies who attack you. You can think through scripture of other passages that show the limits of Proverbs 16:7 — Job for instance. Thinking of ways the proverb isn’t true doesn’t weaken the significance of the proverb. The Gospels and Job do not make Proverbs 16:7 less true.

Words have limits; they are sign posts that point to reality. Words very infrequently, if ever, point to all reality all the time. We need Wisdom to discern the who, what, and when of their pointing.

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