Sure enough, the good wife is showing me up. I'm very sure that the heart of my husband trust in me (verse 11) and that I do him good and not harm all the days of my life (12). But: "She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and tasks for her maidens" (15), and I thought of all the days (every day) I'm not up early, my maidens don't have a list of homeschooling tasks and follow me around asking, "What should I do, Mom?", and I'm staring at the pantry at 5:00 wondering what's for dinner.
"Her lamp does not go out at night" (18): Got that one covered! I wonder if we have a reputation in the neighborhood for having lights burning through the night, since Darwin and I tend to be up on the extremely late side of late.
"She looks well to her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness" (27). Before I searched for a deeper spiritual meaning in this, I made a quick review of my day to see if I'd actually been standing around eating bread at any point, because that sounds like something I'd do. At any kind of metaphorical, allegorical, anagogical, or eschatological level, I eat the bread of idleness all day long. It's probably the best description of my life ever. Forget clothing my family in scarlet against the snow, or buying fields and planting vineyards or wearing fine linen and purple: by this verse alone I fail the Proverbs 31 Good Wife Challenge.
This is of long standing, of course. When we were freshly married, fresh out of college, many of the young wives I knew were making meal plans and had cleaning schedules and kept spreadsheets and scrapbooked and arranged knick-knacks and, you know, did stuff to make their houses orderly and welcoming places. And I never did that any of that, partly because I don't have the temperament for it, and partly because I'd lived off campus my senior year of college and had managed living with other adults just fine without meal plans and crafts. And I was right, I think, to reject the idea that just doing busywork meant that your household was well run, but not so right to reject organization just because the methods of other people didn't appeal to me. In many ways, I still want to live as if I'm single, or married with no children. I want to read when I want to read. I want to be alone when I want to be alone. I want my household to run itself. It doesn't.
But in my reading, I had to move on from Proverbs 31, and on the page immediately facing it was our old friend Qoheleth, the Preacher, wise King Solomon himself, writing Ecclesiates.
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,Qoheleth and I understand one another (or at any rate, he, being the wisest person ever, understands me, and I recognize him because I see him in myself). He has applied his wisdom to trying to understand the world, and he succeeds at a certain level, but every time he's considered new solutions to the problem of "What's it all about?" he comes back to one answer: every work of man is vanity, unless that work comes from the hand of God. But even there Qoheleth reaches and falls short. He's inspired and his sight is keen, but he's still human, and he can't transcend his Old Testament limitations. Wisdom can only take you so far.
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun.
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains for ever.
The sun rises and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south,
and goes round to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
"See, this is new"?
It has been already,
in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to happen
among those who come after.
Ecc. 1: 2-11
I was pondering wisdom, as I read through Psalms and Proverbs. If Wisdom is so excellent, where do the other gifts of the Spirit fit in? Why isn't Wisdom all we need, with every other gift flowing from it? The answer is, I think, it its very precedence. Wisdom extolled as the very first of God's deeds: "The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth" (Prov. 8: 22-23). Wisdom, for all its perfections, is still created. It is a gift from the Spirit, but not a fruit of the Spirit; something the Spirit gives, but not one of the direct fruits of having the Spirit. Qoheleth is wise, but wisdom without "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control" (Gal. 5:22-24) becomes weariness, disillusionment, disgust, isolation, and heaviness of heart. Wisdom is the first created, but Love is the Uncreated, the Creator, the essential foundation of all virtues. The Father and the Son are co-eternal, because without Sonship there is no Fatherhood, but Wisdom is subordinate. What is created can be unmade, as Qoheleth observed with sorrow. All things will fail, and in the end, when every work is forgotten and every motion stilled and every thought dismissed as so much chaff, only Love will endure. If the virtues are rooted in love, they will endure too; if not, they are vanities.
Come to that, though, the brisk activity of Mrs. Proverbs 31 can also carried out independently of the fruits of the Spirit, and such a woman is a terror.