If Solomon was so wise, why did he have 700 wives and 300 concubines, many of them pagan? If anyone knew that was a formula for disaster, it was Solomon. After all, he’d seen firsthand the familial, societal and spiritual chaos caused by polygamy. He’d lived through a civil war where his half-brother tried to kill his father in order to grasp the throne away from Solomon’s reach. How could the wisest man in history make such foolish choices in his personal life?
I know for myself that my greatest moments of insight, the well of tenderness, the perspective that gives me the greatest humanity, all come from being shattered. And then slowly put back together.
Maybe it’s not such a mystery. Like Solomon, we live in a world awash in knowledge, where very smart people do very impressive things on a daily basis. The achievement of modernity are truly astonishing. But despite it all we’ve created a society where people are sadder, more drug dependent and less connected to each other. We live brilliant, fast lives, consumed by distraction but missing the core. Like Solomon, we lack for nothing, but somehow in the blur of our beautiful lives, we miss everything.
I’m on a search for wisdom. And in this quest, I’ve come across a few snippets and an insight. First the snippets. “Graveyards are full of indispensable people,” quipped Brad Thorp to me. It isn’t Brad’s original thought. But coming from a man who is nearing the end of his career, it is particularly poignant. Brad has accomplished something very few have: he has created a global TV network. Not alone. But not without him either. And yet, he can see that life will go on with or without him. And there’s something very liberating about this idea. In a sense all of us are irreplaceable. In another we’re all disposable. Because, whether we like it or not, we will be disposed of by this world, sooner or later. Keeping our lives in perspective adds a gloss of healthy humility.
“The best way to serve the age is to betray it.” Dr Nicholas Miller of Andrews University has this Brendan Kennelly gem hanging in his office. It encapsulates the imperative not to conform but to transform. Sometimes the Christian life feels like a losing struggle against the prevailing tide; a protracted rearguard action. But after considering Kennelly’s thought I think it is something altogether different. It is the byproduct of living an authentic life. A life dedicated not to seeking safety via assimilation but meaning through differentiation. If we are going to give anything to our society we can only do it by being distinct from it. To serve, we must struggle.
“We need to shatter before we heal.” I heard this lyric one evening as I drove into a rural Illinois town. It just so happens the town’s principal employer is a prison. And as I listened, I wondered how many of the men in that prison had been shattered and how many would ever heal. I know for myself that my greatest moments of insight, the well of tenderness, the perspective that gives me the greatest humanity, all come from being shattered. And then slowly put back together. Maybe not all who shatter heal. But maybe all who truly heal were first shattered?
Intelligence, quickness, smartness, sharpness. They’re all around us. But wisdom? As Job puts it, wisdom is “hidden from the eyes of every living creature . . .” We need wisdom more than ever, but in the crowded spaces in which we live, it is elusive. Job concludes his thoughts on wisdom by quoting God: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Many years later, Solomon repeats this thought in Proverbs 1.7.
So how did Solomon fail so spectacularly?
Eric Greitens reflects on wisdom: “in an age of distraction, we’ve lost touch with practical wisdom. Our wealth of common sense fails to become common practice.”
That is the essence of Solomon’s failing. Solomon knew wisdom. But he failed to practice it. As a result, what was built with his brilliance was utterly undone through his foolishness. Specifically, the evil of Solomon’s successor Rehoboam was due in part to his pagan upbringing. Rehoboam’s ruinous reign split the kingdom. And the split kingdom eventually became an easy target for Babylon, which enslaved Judah and obliterated Solomon’s glorious temple. Thus, one unwise decision undid all of Solomon’s achievements. Like Solomon, we have access to great wisdom. And like him, we must decide what we do with it. Let’s choose . . . wisely.
James Standish is editor of Adventist Record.