If you don’t know children’s books, or you were never a child yourself, you might not know Petunia. She’s a silly goose. No, really, not like what my uncles called me when I was little, but an actual goose who has some crazy ideas.
Short story shorter, Petunia finds a book and recalls the axiom: He who owns books, and loves them, is wise. Petunia carries around her book, eats, sleeps and swims with it and considers that she has become wise. Her barnyard friends believe she’s wise, too, and asks her to help with their problems. Petunia’s advice is disastrous, because she’s not really wise, she just has a book and air of pride. Eventually, Petunia learns that in order to be wise, one must love the content of the book, not just the paper and leather binding.
Petunia was published in 1950, maybe because it was a social commentary at the time, I don’t know. A quick scan of the internet via Google reveals nothing on this subject, so, I just thought I would just throw this out there: I’ve seen a ton of Petunias lately. People who have found a Bible, assume that carrying it around like a canned ham in the event of nuclear holocaust makes them wise and become proud of their hollow faith. Their ‘love’ of the book only goes so far. It’s a symbol of their wisdom, not its source. The Bible is the fountainhead of their proof-texts, what they use to justify their prejudices, approve their choices and denigrate their enemies. There are two themes in Petunia, wisdom and pride.
If fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, as it says in Proverbs 1, perhaps instead of turning over wisdom again and again, we should be examining what it means to fear the Lord. I don’t believe that good, solid relationships develop out of fear. I’ve long disagreed with the apocalyptic fear of judgement that some give as a reason to follow Christ, but that doesn’t mean I don’t fear the Lord. My fear is not the fear of punishment, but the fear of disappointing him, the awe I feel for his grace and benevolence, the concern that I will completely misunderstand that which is most important. That fear drives me to know him better, so that I can wonder at him all the more. It’s a fear that comes from love, not the other way around. Petunia finally became wise because she realized how much there was yet for her to learn.
Proverbs 16:18 says “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Petunia’s neck grew longer and longer the more prideful she became, until the situation literally blew up in her face. No, really, she misread “fireworks” as “candy” and invited her friends to eat. With our noses so high in the air, it makes scanning the ground for potential stumbling blocks difficult. Pride is more odious than fallacious wisdom, because pride compels us to share that false wisdom. Pride in counterfeit wisdom is the killer combination. As Mark Twain supposedly said, “Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt.”
Eventually, the sin of pride will uncover the ineptitude of our human wisdom. Only then will we stop asserting that others should follow exactly our interpretation of what we THINK Jesus would do, instead of letting God deal with the situation. Believing we must enact his will by force is not giving God enough credit. It shows only pride in our own efforts and a denial of God’s power. It’s not too late to redeem ourselves, as Petunia did.