Puzzle freaks are a special breed of people. They look for challenges and are driven to conquer them. Whether it’s a crossword puzzle, a jigsaw puzzle, Sudoku, Rubik’s cube or an advanced algebra problem, individuals who have this in their DNA can’t resist. Usually the answers don’t come quickly, and if they come too easily, the puzzle enthusiast is disappointed. Sometimes the answer is never discovered, but the time and energy spent still seem worthwhile because of the joy of the mental workout.
Actually, all of us have a bit of the puzzle-solver in us. That’s why among the most enduringly popular programs from the early years of television were “Concentration,” “Wheel of Fortune” and other challenging game shows. Whodunit crime mysteries are another regularly-occurring form of puzzle challenge we can’t seem to resist on television. Now that just about everyone has a smart phone, the possibilities of interacting with new puzzle ideas seem infinite.
Life is a puzzle! Solving its meaning and figuring out how to live it successfully has been a major preoccupation of most people in every time and place.
In our Sunday morning study of the Old Testament, book by book, we have come to some writings that are known as “Wisdom Literature.” This genre of literature is not unique to the Bible, but is found in earlier records from Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece. In the Wisdom Books contained in our Old Testament (Job, some Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon), the focus is on the difference a belief in Monotheism (There is only one Sovereign and Supreme God) makes in understanding accumulated human wisdom.
Those who had the gift and aptitude for raising these questions and suggesting the answers have come to be known as “Wise Men,” “Magi” or “Sages.” They were the life-puzzle freaks of their day and age. They couldn’t help working on the riddles faced by human beings trying to maneuver through the unknown threats and challenges in the world around them. Those who wrote the Wisdom Books of our Bible found that Yahweh, the Creator God, as he had revealed himself to Israel, was the piece of the puzzle the sages of other cultures were missing.
Among the literary containers the sages used for their wisdom were proverbs, riddles, poems, dramas, contrived debates and alliterations. These are all found in the Wisdom Books. Some of their wise sayings have become so much a part of our culture that we think we invented them. The simplest proverb may be the result of many ancient thinkers’ exhausting quest for an answer to a seemingly insoluble life problem.
Beginning with the Book of Job this Sunday, we hope you enjoy our journey into the minds of these puzzle freaks of old. Maybe by exposure to their writings, you will be challenged and inspired to search diligently for some missing piece in the puzzle of your life.
— Pastor George Van Alstine