John Alan Turner

Writer, Theologian, Consultant, Speaker, Teacher

The Problem With Proverbs

For the longest time I didn't like the Book of Proverbs. I wouldn't read it, wouldn't refer to it, didn't even like to talk about it. I felt like the book had let me down somehow. I now know it's because I didn't know how to read Proverbs.

There are three different types of literature that must be differentiated: Laws; Promises; Proverbs.

For example, Deuteronomy 6:5 says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." That's a command. It's something we are to do all the time, and there are no exceptions.

Romans 8:38-39 says, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." That's a promise. There's nothing in there that we're supposed to do. It's God's promise to us, and -- again -- there are no exceptions.

But Proverbs 10:4 says, "Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth." Not really a command. Not really a promise. There are exceptions to this rule. Lazy people sometimes win the lottery. Hardworking people sometimes mismanage their money.

Here's another one that's sometimes hard to grasp: "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it" (Proverbs 22:6). That sounds like a promise, but it's not. Even in the Old Testament there are examples of really good parents who have really lousy kids. If you read this verse like it's a promise (which is how I used to read the Proverbs), you may be setting yourself up for frustration, confusion and anger if your children decide to depart from the path they were raised to walk.

Proverbs are generally just the way things work. But there are exceptions. I used to read the Proverbs as if they were iron-clad promises from God that this is how things will be. Work hard, and you'll get rich. Pursue God's wisdom, and people will love you. Put the quarter in, and the candy bar comes out.

I didn't have to live very long before I realized that life doesn't work that way. With my lack of wisdom at the time I assumed the problem must be with the book of Proverbs. I now realize that the problem was with the way I was reading it.