The Danger of Tradition
The Danger of Tradition
“Please inquire of past generations and consider the things searched out by their fathers.
After Job rejects Eliphaz’s theology of experience, Bildad is the next to speak. For Bildad, our understanding of God and the basis for wisdom comes from tradition. For Bildad, the way to discover truth is to look back at past generations. To glean from their knowledge and their wisdom. In an age when we embrace the new and the latest without discernment, Bildad calls upon us not to neglect the wisdom and the values of the previous generation. Morality is not shifting sand. It is established by God from the very foundation of creation so to reject the wisdom of the past is to depart from the foundations of God’s moral and spiritual law. Youth is deceptive, for, in reality, we know nothing (8:9).
Like Eliphaz’s focus on experience, Bildad’s focus on tradition also has some merit. A central theme of wisdom is that we need to listen to the traditions and teaching of past generations. Because of our sinful nature, our natural inclination is for sin, so we can deceive ourselves (see Proverbs 22:15-25). Therefore, we need to listen to the instruction of the wise, and in the book of Proverbs, wisdom comes with age. Today we live in a culture that celebrates youth and denigrates the aged. Old people should be pushed aside and placed in senior living rather than sought after for their wisdom. In contrast, the Bible points to the importance of listening to the wisdom of the elderly (Proverbs 13:1; 19:20; 23:22). Proverbs 16:31 and. 20:29 both celebrate the value of the aged and the lessons we can learn by looking back at the counsel of the previous generations.
However, the wisdom of the aged can be misguided. Thus Bildad, in his reliance on traditions, makes erroneous assumptions about Job’s circumstances. While taking a different route than Eliphaz, Bildad comes to the same conclusion: Job’s suffering results from sin, so Job needs to repent. Bildad fails to recognize that even though we can learn from past generations, their counsel can also be misguided. While wisdom is gained through experience, we are still confronted with our sinful nature and self-deception. Experience is a teacher, but sometimes it can teach the wrong lessons and lead us to the wrong conclusion. Sometimes, we misinterpret the events of the past. While listening to previous generations and the lessons they teach is helpful, they are not infallible. As we get older, we not only gain more wisdom through experience, but we also can become blinded by our own perspective. We become more dogmatic, more condemnatory of the youth. We become dismissive of the ideas of the youth and become reliant upon the “good old days.” The danger is that we can become unteachable.
Such was the error of Bildad. By solely relying upon past traditions, he became blind to his misguided assumptions. Bildad reminds us that even as we age, we can still be wrong. Instead of becoming dogmatic and closed-minded, we need to recognize that we are still learners and must be teachable. While the past can give us insight into the present and future, it can also blind us to new things God is doing. As Job points out in his response in 9:1-4, all people are blinded by their sinful nature.
As you get older, are you becoming more dogmatic, convinced that your way is the right way, or are you growing as a learner? Are you still teachable? For those younger, are you so enamored with the “latest and newest” that you reject the wisdom of the elderly?