National R U OK? Day occurs on the second Thursday of September. According to the website R U OK? Day is a day ‘dedicated to inspiring all Australians to ask family, friends and colleagues, ‘Are you ok?’ By regularly reaching out to one another and having open and honest conversations, we can all help build a more connected community and reduce our country’s high suicide rate.
‘More than 2,200 Australians suicide each year and men are around 3 times more likely to die by suicide than females (ABS 2012). For each person that takes their life, another 30 people attempt to end their own life (SANE Australia).’
My initial response is to jump to a comparison with the euthanasia debate. R U OK? Day is the collective ‘we’ rightly trying to stop people taking, or attempting to take, their own life to escape whatever undisclosed psychological suffering they are undertaking at the time. As it was said, at one point, the answer to R U OK? might be, no. It means that the person can be offered or led to where they can receive help.
However, at the same time we are attempting to stop people ending their life through psychological suffering, the collective ‘we’ are arguing that people should have the right to end their own life, commit suicide, in the face of physical suffering or sense of burden upon others.
On one hand we are trying to stop people from taking their own life and on the other hand we fighting for their right to do so. This doesn’t make sense to me.
Similarly, in 2008, the Victorian Parliament passed the Abortion Law Reform Bill 2008 making it legal to abort a baby ‘at not more than 24 weeks’ ‘only if the medical practitioner reasonably believes that the abortion is appropriate in all the circumstances; and has consulted at least one other registered medical practitioner who also reasonably believes that the abortion is appropriate in’ the woman’s ‘relevant medical… and current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances.’
At the same time, in neonatal wards of hospital maternity units and children’s hospitals, nursing staff work to enable approximately 30% of babies born at 23 weeks or less of gestation and approximately 50% born at 24 weeks, to survive.
On one hand we are giving permission for the termination of pregnancy up to 24 weeks of gestation and on the other hand we are fighting to keep alive a baby born at 24 weeks of gestation. This doesn’t make sense to me.
That we use abortion as a form of contraception while people struggle through cycles of IVF in desperation to have a family. That we choose abortion over giving up an unwanted pregnancy for adoption because adoption is seen as psychologically cruel. That people will adopt children from overseas at great expense because there aren’t enough children here to adopt for free. That those who wish to adopt need to pass psychological examinations, parenting tests, and children’s checks in order to adopt while natural parenting has no training or conditions. When parents can choose genetically preferenced embryos in order to bear a child who can provide tissue donation for a sick sibling. When we fight against child slavery in overseas countries and yet fight to use embryonic stem cells to cure illness and disabilities in adults.
None of this makes sense to me.
And then we have the audacity to say God is not fair; God is not just; God is cruel; that because there is evil in the world God is not love or does not exist.
These are things of which I find myself thinking as I hear from Proverbs and the gospel today,
Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest street corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gate she speaks: How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? (Proverbs 1:20-22)
Because they hated knowledge and did not choose fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel, and despised all of my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices. (Proverbs 1:29-31)
For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things. (Mark 8:33b)
I need things to make sense and be consistent. As Immanuel Kant said, ‘Science is ordered knowledge; wisdom is ordered life.’ Perhaps this is what we mean by common sense, that the sense of things is applied to everything.
In our modern human world we connect wisdom with knowledge, being able to act out of good and just judgment, what may be called common sense. But to apply this to the word translated as wisdom in Proverbs does not fulfil its complete meaning.
A school of wisdom formed during Solomon’s reign under his leadership, which is probably why the proverbs are attributed to him. (Luke 11:13) The wisdom literature included all manner of things. However, It wasn’t until after the exile of Israel that wisdom began to be expressed as knowledge of God and how that was expressed in the life of God’s people and God’s intention for the entire human situation.
Wisdom, therefore, is not about our ability to order our lives. God is wisdom and so, in Proverbs, we see wisdom personified as God calling out. Wisdom is God’s gift of himself to humanity. (Mark 6:2, 1 Corinthians 12:8) The personification of wisdom in Proverbs connects us to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament; the giver of the Spiritual gift of wisdom; the Holy Spirit is the one who reveals God. And, as Proverbs suggests, we can choose to listen or reject God’s revelation of himself.
Where wisdom is concerned with God’s revelation of himself, knowledge is not simply about factual information. Knowledge is the recognition of what is behind God’s revealing of himself, for example, his grace towards us despite our unworthiness to receive it. Knowledge is of the very nature of God. That it is hated by fools is what hurts God the most, ‘Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.’ (Proverbs 1:28)
The problem is we mark wisdom by our own ability to order our life; we choose to please our own wisdom, as Brazilian author Paulo Coelho put it, ‘A lot of people think something is right, and so that thing becomes right.’ The consequences of this is we do not think things through; we do not consider the implications of God’s revelation of himself on all of our life and all life.
Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), French mathematician, physicist and religious philosopher put it well when he said, ‘We can only know God well when we know our own sin. And those who have known God without knowing their wretchedness have not glorified Him but have glorified themselves.’ If we limit faith simply to some kind of intellectual exercise and forget our responsibility to apply what we have discovered to our lives and the life of those around us we are not listening to the cry of wisdom.
Those who are truly wise are those who are considering their own lives and the world according to how God has revealed himself to them. The working this out, in all aspects of our life, is what it means to be a disciple.
 He would speak of trees, from the cedar that is in the Lebanon to the hyssop that grows in the wall; he would speak of animals, and birds, and reptiles, and fish. People came from all the nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon; they came from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.