Choosing Life (Proverbs 8:1–36)

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Nelson Mandela said many years ago, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” His concern for children—who had been born—was commendable, and that legacy continues in many ways. Unfortunately, the same man—then president of South Africa—also signed into law, on 1 February 1997, the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act, granting legal protection for a mother to kill her child, as long as that child is in the womb.

The Act permits a woman to have an abortion until the second trimester, no questions asked. Sadly, in most cases in South Africa, no questions are asked. Since the passing of the act, an average of seventy to eighty thousand reported abortions take place annually. This amounts to more than a million abortions since 1997.

In the light of Madiba’s statement, what does the legislation of abortion say about our nation’s soul? It could be saying that, generally speaking, we hate God’s wisdom and consequently love death. It could be saying that, generally, we hate the culture of life and have instead chosen to love a culture of death.

I cay “could” because the Act may well say more about the government than those governed. When the Act was signed into law, an overwhelming majority of South Africans opposed it. It may still be the case that most South Africans oppose abortion on demand. However, even amongst those who are supposedly opposed to abortion, there does seem to be a good deal of indifference. They may state on paper that they oppose abortion, but they hardly seem to be very concerned about the current state of affairs.

Regardless of the precise numbers, the fact remains that abortion is a scourge in our land—as it is globally.

In South Africa, the Sunday closest to 1 February is designated Sanctity of Life Sunday. This annual commemoration serves to draw attention to the issue of abortion, to raise awareness about it, and to practically address what we can do about it. For the last few years, we at BBC have chosen to turn our Sanctity of Life Sunday thoughts directly to this matter. What we need as we think about these issues is a flood of biblical wisdom.

In this study, I wish to consider what biblical wisdom looks like from Proverbs 8. My thesis is this: Rejecting the wisdom of God leads to a culture of death, while receiving the wisdom of God leads to a culture of life. Stated another way, secularism is deadly, while devotion to God is life-giving. Practically, the solution to the culture of death is the life-giving gospel. South Africa and the world need godly wisdom.

As Christians, we want people to choose life. And we want them to do so because they have life—eternal, abundant spiritual life. It is important to understand that abortion is not a political issue; it is, in reality, a worldview issue. Therefore, it is a spiritual issue. Proverbs 8:35–36 shows is this principle.

As we consider the notion of biblical wisdom, I trust that it will not only drive us to think correctly about abortion, but that it will also help us in our Great Commission quest of seeing the nations characterised as followers of Christ who daily choose life.

Biblical prolife issues highlight some uncomfortable facts. But we can’t bury our head in the sand. A proper appreciation of a culture of life is far too important to do that.

Solomon was concerned about wisdom. Specifically, he wrote Proverbs to encourage his son to live wisely. He highlights the need for wise living specifically in chapters 7–9.

Wisdom can be defined as living to the glory of God by living in a righteous relationship with God (cf. Psalm 90:12). In these crucial chapters regarding wise living, Solomon warns against folly, personifying foolishness as a prostitute (chapter 7). He then appeals for wise living, personifying wisdom as a virtuous woman (chapter 8). Finally, in chapter 9, he powerfully contrasts the way of wisdom with the way of folly.

His passion was that his son, and indeed all his readers, would choose the way of life, the way of the Lord, the wisdom of the Lord. He wanted his readers to experience a culture of life rather than a culture of death.

The key verses for our purposes are found in vv. 32–36, but we must first consider the chapter in its entirety before we get there.

The Call of Wisdom

In vv. 1–11, we find a passionate call to wisdom:

Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice? She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, beside the way, where the paths meet. She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, at the entrance of the doors: “To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men. O you simple ones, understand prudence, and you fools, be of an understanding heart. Listen, for I will speak of excellent things, and from the opening of my lips will come right things; for my mouth will speak truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are with righteousness; nothing crooked or perverse is in them. They are all plain to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge. Receive my instruction, and not silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her.

(Proverbs 8:1–11)

This section opens with a call to all to receive wisdom (vv. 1–5). It is a cry for all readers to live to the glory of God.

In vv. 6–9, we see that this call can be trusted. God’s wisdom is a light in the darkness. It gives us the right answers, which we can trust. When we face tough questions, we must look to biblical wisdom for the right answers.

We sometimes face tough questions when it comes to prolife issues. For example, is it right to starve to death a loved one who has terminal illness? The fact is, we are all terminally ill. We are dying. Some of us have more time left than others, but we will all die one day. Do we have the right to decide whose lives are more valuable than others?

As another example, consider the tough questions that are often asked with reference to abortion. Is it permissible to abort a child in the case of rape? What about incest? What if the mother’s life is in danger if the pregnancy progresses? These questions are often asked as if there is no answer to them, but biblical wisdom gives us the confidence to answer. This confidence is not arrogance; it is dependence.

Folly makes up its own rules, and that is why, in the end, it is so insane and irrational. Consider, for example, a recent article pertaining to a woman in the UK who faces charges for irresponsible alcohol consumption during her pregnancy.

A British court is to rule on whether a woman committed a “crime of violence” against her child by drinking heavily during pregnancy, in a case that has raised concerns about criminalising mothers.

A local authority is applying to the government’s criminal compensation authority for damages on behalf of a seven-year-old girl in its care who has severe alcohol-related disabilities.

Its lawyers have told the Court of Appeal that her mother was “reckless” in her behaviour by drinking up to half a bottle of vodka and eight cans of strong lager a day while she was pregnant.

While they do not suggest the damage was deliberate, they say she discussed her drinking with professionals and “went on to take the risk.”

The case, in which a ruling is expected next week, has sparked heated debate over the dangers of alcohol and the rights of women and foetuses in a country where abortion has been legal since 1967.

The article speaks of the case as one “of profound social significance,” noting, “If the court were to interpret the law as requested by the council, it would establish a legal precedent which could be used to prosecute women who drink while pregnant.”

The latest ruling is that a foetus is not a person until birth and therefore cannot be a victim of crime, but this ruling has, predictably, been appealed.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, the fact that a lawsuit was brought in the first place is ironic. As the article notes, abortion has been legal in Britain since 1967. So evidently some consider it a crime to harm an unborn child with excessive drinking, but not to kill that same unborn child in the womb outright.

In South Africa, many who seemingly support abortion on demand, or who are at least indifferent to it, are passionate about saving the rhino. I am not suggesting that God does not care about rhino poaching, nor am I suggesting that you can only support one of the two causes, but surely something must be said about a culture that is more concerned with rhino poaching than with murder in the womb!

The fact is quite simple: If you reject the call to biblical wisdom, senseless insanity will eventually morph into mindless insanity. Listen to what Paul said to the Romans about those who rejected God’s call to wisdom:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four- footed animals and creeping things.

(Romans 1:18–23)

In vv. 10–11, we see that this call is to be prioritised. These verses are akin to the charge of the Lord Jesus to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). It is far better to receive godly wisdom than to attain material wealth. The culture of death may be profitable, but the culture of life is costly.

In its financial report for 2014, Planned Parenthood, the United States’ largest abortion provider, reported that it had performed 327,653 abortions that year and took in more than $528 million in tax funding. SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser notes, “The abortion rate may be declining across America, but not in Planned Parenthood clinics. Their latest annual report is fresh evidence that Planned Parenthood remains an abortion-centered, profit-driven business.”

La Shawn Barber, who reported these figures for WORLD magazine, concludes, “While women don’t pass their babies through the fire or slaughter them on altars to false gods with names like Baal or Molech anymore, babies are dismembered in clinics and washed down sinks today for idols called convenience and consequence avoidance. Judgment will come.”

But she concludes with a word of hope: “As the Apostle John wrote, ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ These words are as simple now and for all time as they were then. In the midst of all this chaos and destruction, God is still saving.”

The fact is, Planned Parenthood (and similar abortion providers elsewhere in the world) takes in a lot of money and provides a lot of jobs.

The total revenue for Planned Parenthood USA is $1.3 billion, which exceeds the GDP of Greenland!

Sadly, those who ought to know better sometimes contribute toward this problem. I recently read a very sad article detailing the intention of a church in Wichita, Kansas to hold a fundraising event for Planned Parenthood. The event was called “Chili for Choice,” and was advertised as “an evening of stimulating conversation, refreshments and CHILI!” Tickets ranged from $20 (“income-sensitive”) to $1,000 (“Scorching Serran Patron”) with all proceeds going toward Planned Parenthood.

As David Gittrich, state development director for Kansa for Life, said, “It’s hard to believe someone would celebrate the killing of an unborn child to solve problems.”

The prochoice worldview is clearly fuelled by materialism. A loss of transcendence creates a worldview that is all about the immediacy of silver, gold and rubies. As Pope John Paul II noted, “a society excessively concerned with efficiency results in the unleashing of a conspiracy against life.”

When what you see is all you live for, then decisions are made motivated by rands, cents and convenience. The elderly or mentally disabled are euthanised for the sake of cost-effectiveness and convenience. Abortion is justified because mothers “can’t afford” the child. True, few may be crass enough to couch in in those terms, but that is what it all boils down to.

Of course, there are a few who are bold enough to state the bottom line openly. In 2013, Mary Elizabeth Williams posted an article at Salon.com titled “So what if abortion ends life.” The tagline read, “I believe that life starts at conception. And it’s never stopped me from being pro-choice.” Williams writes,

Of all the diabolically clever moves the anti-choice lobby has ever pulled, surely one of the greatest has been its consistent co-opting of the word “life.” Life! Who wants to argue with that? Who wants be on the side of … not-life? That’s why the language of those who support abortion has for so long been carefully couched in other terms. While opponents of abortion eagerly describe themselves as “pro-life,” the rest of us have had to scramble around with not nearly as big-ticket words like “choice” and “reproductive freedom.” The “life” conversation is often too thorny to even broach. Yet I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life. And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice….

Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.

When we on the pro-choice side get cagey around the life question, it makes us illogically contradictory. I have friends who have referred to their abortions in terms of “scraping out a bunch of cells” and then a few years later were exultant over the pregnancies that they unhesitatingly described in terms of “the baby” and “this kid.” I know women who have been relieved at their abortions and grieved over their miscarriages. Why can’t we agree that how they felt about their pregnancies was vastly different, but that it’s pretty silly to pretend that what was growing inside of them wasn’t the same? Fetuses aren’t selective like that. They don’t qualify as human life only if they’re intended to be born.

When we try to act like a pregnancy doesn’t involve human life, we wind up drawing stupid semantic lines in the sand: first trimester abortion vs. second trimester vs. late term, dancing around the issue trying to decide if there’s a single magic moment when a fetus becomes a person. Are you human only when you’re born? Only when you’re viable outside of the womb? Are you less of a human life when you look like a tadpole than when you can suck on your thumb?

She gets it, yet she hates wisdom. She hates God. And therefore she loves death.

But those who embrace godly wisdom are willing to pray the price for it. They are willing to love and care for the disabled even if it is a financial drain. They are willing to love and care for orphans even if it is expensive. It requires “silver,” “gold” and “rubies” to love and care for pregnant women who are committed to carrying their children. It requires resources to love and care for children with congenital birth defects. But those with godly wisdom are willing to pay the cost because they have heard the call and are committed to obeying it.

The Character of Wisdom

In vv. 12–14, Solomon describes the character of wisdom: “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge and discretion. The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate. Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom; I am understanding, I have strength.”

Fundamentally, wisdom is synonymous with “the fear of the LORD.” Wisdom (wise living) has reduced its greatest fear object to the Lord, maker of heaven and earth. If we are wise, we will love what God loves and hate what God hates.

I must admit, when I first read Mary Elizabeth Williams’ article (quoted in part above), I was angry. It is right to be angry at sin, but I sadly sinned in my anger. For a moment after I read the article I thought, “I’m glad there’s a hell.” Then I immediately repented and prayed for her salvation.

Wisdom sees the big picture—the future—and is therefore willing to protect and pay the price for life. And it is willing to do this because it sees the image of God in every human life.

This reverent wisdom gives us strength for the battle (v. 14). It enables women to persevere through (often difficult) pregnancy. It enables parents (and children of aging parents) to persevere through long-term care. It enables perseverance in the fight for life.

The Competence of Wisdom

Verses 15–16 detail the competence of godly wisdom: “By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all the judges of the earth.”

The problem in South Africa, and in much of the world at large, is judicial incompetence because of spiritual ignorance, and therefore moral indifference. We need a renewed governance elected by a renewed populace.

WORLD magazine recently published an article that highlights with great clarity the reality of this issue. The article pertains to religious persecution of a particular local church in Rio Tercero in Argentina. Pueblo Grande Baptist Church,

led by pastor Marcelo Nieva, operates a home for abused women and children and has a ministry to former prostitutes and sex trafficking victims. It’s been so successful rescuing women from their narco-trafficking abusers that it’s caught the attention of the town’s drug cartels, which have attempted to shut down the ministry with violent attacks and threats. When that didn’t work, the cartels appealed to the law.

In 2011, lawmakers in the province of Córdoba passed a provision that prohibits “psychological manipulation” through evangelizing. Two years later, Nieva was prosecuted under this “anti-cult” law.

The article details how law-enforcement officers are often part of the problem. They are supportive of the drug trade and thus do little to support the appeals of church members for assistance. The Protestant population in Argentina numbers some 7.5 million, all of whom are now in danger of religious persecution. And while the persecution stems immediately from local drug cartels, Pastor Nieva highlights the deeper roots: “The gospel—the message of the church—is a threat, a threat to those who traffic in death.”

Pastor Nieva is right: The gospel message is a threat in the culture of death, and those who hold to the truth of the gospel can expect persecution. George Orwell was correct: In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

Christians must be willing to stand for the truth in the public square. I am convinced that there is a great call for Christians to be single-issue voters. I fail to see how a Christian can in good conscience vote for a political party that champions prochoice issues.

As we speak the truth in public, let us also pray. Let us pray for a righteous government whose leadership will in no way oppose the truth of the gospel (1 Timothy 2:1–5). The church must takes God’s law seriously before the government will.

The Compensation from Wisdom

Solomon next highlights the fact that those who seek wisdom can expect to reap wisdom’s rewards.

I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently will find me. Riches and honour are with me, enduring riches and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, yes, than fine gold, and my revenue than choice silver. I traverse the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice, that I may cause those who love me to inherit wealth, that I may fill their treasuries.

The compensation from wisdom is out of this world, and yet it is to be experienced in this world. The sum is this: Those who live wisely are enriched. They experience true prosperity: a life that really and fully works. The wise get it.

What does this look like practically? It looks like the reward of loving your neighbour. It looks like the reward of a clear conscience. It looks like the reward of sacrificially loving a child. It looks like the reward of caring for the dependent. It looks like the reward of Christlike growth. It looks like the reward of making a difference. It looks like the reward of pleasing God. It looks like the reward of “empowering” the lives of the vulnerable. This is indeed a compensation package we must not turn down!

The Creator of Wisdom

Solomon is also careful to point his readers to the Creator of wisdom:

The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I have been established from everlasting, from the beginning, before there was ever an earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, I was brought forth; while as yet He had not made the earth or the fields, or the primal dust of the world. When He prepared the heavens, I was there, when He drew a circle on the face of the deep, when He established the clouds above, when He strengthened the fountains of the deep, when He assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters would not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside Him as a master craftsman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in His inhabited world, and my delight was with the sons of men.

(Proverbs 8:22–31)

The NKJV begins this section with “the LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way.” The NIV translates this as “The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works.” Literally, it reads, “The LORD fathered (created) me.”

The point is simple: Wisdom transcends time. Wisdom is older than the earth. Wisdom comes from God. Wisdom is at the heart of creation. Wisdom is the only way to make sense of the world. God’s wisdom is always relevant—in every generation.

To make sense of God’s world, we need God’s gift of wisdom. This has direct implications of the sanctity of human life.

Our view of the sanctity of human life is rooted in creation (see vv. 30–31). We value human life because human life is created in the image of God. Evolution and the culture of death are intimately connected. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that the teaching of evolution on schools has no major worldview impact on your children. The culture of death is a direct reflection of the evolutionary idea of the survival of the fittest. Classic Darwinianism is exactly what makes people ask, “So what if abortion ends life?” It is completely irrational, but it makes sense in a humanistic culture.

The battle for the sanctity of human life rages in our public schools. Our sanctity of life worldview is not only “old-fashioned,” but is oldvery old, and therefore very relevant. Worldview matters. Ideas have consequences.

The Choice Concerning Wisdom

Solomon concludes this chapter by bringing to us a choice concerning wisdom:

Now therefore, listen to me, my children, for blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not disdain it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favour from the LORD; but he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death.

(Proverbs 8:32–36)

The choice is simple, but its consequences are profound—temporally and eternally.

The Choice of Happiness and Life

Wisdom offers, in the first place, the option of happiness and life (vv. 32­–35). God’s way produces life and blessedness. If we embrace wisdom, we embrace a sanctified life, which produces the joy of obedience. To embrace wisdom is to embrace the abundant life that Christ offers (John 10:10). This gives us a sense of shalom, a sense that we are experiencing God’s smile. It gives us the sense that God is saying to us, “Well done!”

As it applies to sanctity of life, the embrace of wisdom produces the blessed testimonies of lives transformed by God. It results in the blessed testimonies of those who choose life, who say no abortion and yes to care.

Robertson McQuilkin was once president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary. He resigned his position when his wife, afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, required his daily care. McQuilkin was somewhat surprised when people kept expressing their amazement that he would resign the position for such a task of daily care. To him, it was no major decision; he was simply taking seriously his wedding vows to stand with his wife “in sickness and in health.”

McQuiklin was once at an airport with his wife. She was getting fidgety, and often got up from her seat and started wandering off. Each time, he would rise from his seat and go after her, lovingly returning her to where she needed to be. After a while, he became aware that a young woman was staring at them. Uncomfortable, he asked if something was the matter. The young woman replied, “I’m sorry for staring, but I pray to God that I will one day find a man who loves me the way you love your wife.”

McQuilkin’s care of his ailing wife was consistent with his prolife worldview. This worldview is foreign to many, but not to those who say yes to God’s wisdom.

You cannot be on God’s side and experience happiness and life if you are pro-abortion. God is not confused. Those who reject wisdom forfeit blessedness and face the second option.

The Choice of Harm and Death

The second option is harm and death (v. 36). To reject wisdom is to reject God’s rule, and that is to “love death.” To reject God’s rule is suicide. It is insane. It is ultimately murderous.

Note that this choice is defined explicitly as sin. The ESV softens the blow somewhat by speaking of “he who fails to find me,” but I think the NKJV has it right.

This verse speaks of the individual (“he”) who sins against God by rejecting wisdom, but we should understand that no man is an island: Our choices always affect others. This is precisely why so much of the Westernised world is marked by the culture of death.

Those who choose abortion (death) rather than life injure themselves and another. The prochoice lobby often argue that it is the woman’s own body and therefore her choice, but this is a lie: The foetus has its own DNA, blood type, functioning brain and other organs. There are always two bodies involved in an abortion: the mother’s and the baby’s. The mother has no right to harm the baby’s body for her own convenience.

There is a challenge here to prolifers too: If we love others, we need to rescue them from their sin and from themselves. Calling it murder is not enough, we also need to rescue the unborn lives in danger. What is at stake has been powerfully portrayed in a short film titled “The Appointment.”

So, what can we do? We must repent of our indifference and embrace the Christ who is wisdom.

The Christ Who is Wisdom

In 1 Corinthians 1:30–31, Paul writes, “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’”

The wisdom of Proverbs 8 points to its ultimately fulfilment in Jesus Christ. Wisdom comes through a person, who reconciles us to the God who offers this wisdom. If we desire a culture that honours life on God’s term, we must understand that that culture needs Christ. The culture needs the gospel. As Pastor Nieva noted, the gospel is a threat to those who traffic in death.

Make no mistake: Those who continue hating God and loving death will one day receive the eternal, second death that they so love. But those who love life must love them enough to warn them of this and to point them to life in the gospel.

This has tremendous practical implications. First, we must make disciples. We must teach and preach the law and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Second, we must, empowered by the gospel, get involved. We must involve ourselves wholeheartedly in ministries that stand for the sanctity of life. Wilberforce would not rest until he saw the injustice of slavery overthrown; we must not rest until abortion is a horror of the distant past. Third, we must vote informed by the gospel. As you vote in political elections, vote for those who stand for life, not death.

There may well be some reading this who have self-inflicted injury by means of abortion. Perhaps you once failed to listen to God’s wise, life-giving ways, and death resulted. It would be a horrible thing if all you heard was condemnation. Verse 36 doesn’t have to be your reality. You can find life in the promise of v. 35.

Michelle Shelfer’s parents encouraged her from a young age to explore her sexuality. She fell pregnant at age 24. She thought nothing of her appointment at the abortion clinic, though the procedure itself was surprisingly painful. When she was led out of the clinic by a back entrance, she recalls “a flood of tears and the ‘shame and secrecy’ she felt.” As she shuffled to her car, she noticed a flattened and rusted button on the ground. Picking it up, she noted that it depicted a mother bird hovering over her baby, with the slogan, “He careth for you.”

Five months later, she was pregnant again and sitting in the waiting room of another abortion clinic. The doctor was late, and her thoughts were on her pregnancy, her boyfriend, her future, the prolife campaigners she had walked past on her way into the clinic, and the flattened button she still carried with her.

Meanwhile, he boyfriend was sitting in the car as the Holy Spirit ministered grace to his heart. God saved him as he waited outside an abortion clinic for his girlfriend.

Shelfer did not wait for the doctor. She left the clinic and met her boyfriend in the car, where she too came to faith in Christ. Her boyfriend proposed to her as they drove away from the clinic.

The baby boy that she almost aborted is now a Yale-educated lawyer, a husband, and a father of three. Shelfer and her husband have been married for 32 years, and she ministers actively to those in need of pre- and post-abortion counselling. She experienced grace and forgiveness, and now is passionate about telling others that God offers the same to them.

Ask. Seek. Knock. God delights in granting favour, so choose life.