Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Proverbs of Wisdom

We now reach the section in proverbs that most people know well. It is where the wise sayings are recounted over the next 20 chapters, 10-30. We notice a shift in the writers focus once we reach chapter 10. For the first nine chapters, we read the description of Wisdom, and how all should seek her out, as opposed to the falsities of the world.

The focus now is quite different. Rather than describing wisdom and other virtues, the writer (whom this column will presume to be King Solomon, following Jewish and Christian tradition, though the author if officially unknown) now begins saying different phrases, and not saying what they mean. It is assumed that once the person comes to know Divine Wisdom, the answers will be clear. The time for beginner’s instruction is over. No longer giving the children milk, he now moves them on to solid, a constant refrain throughout Scripture, most notably in the writings of St. Paul.

A popular literary device used here is to give the proverb dual focus. It demonstrates the virtue of following Wisdom on one side of the Proverb, and then demonstrates the negative aspect of rejecting Wisdom in the following section of the Proverb. Hopefully this will be made clear. We will cover this chapter by chapter, including all of the sayings of wisdom in that chapter.

A wise son maketh the father glad: but a foolish son is the sorrow of his mother.

We begin already by showing the contrast between the wise and the foolish. Upon reading this text some may wonder “Do not the mother and father rejoice and mourn equally with a wise or foolish son?” To this I would answer they do, but not in the sense Solomon wishes to convey. For the first part, it is right to consider the role and duties of the Father.

Biblically speaking, the Father is the head of the household. As such, it is he who instructs the son in the ways of wisdom and the ways of God. He would teach the son how to work in business, how to act towards others, etc. Being a young man, the son will look for examples of how older men act, and that example was to be his father. If the father became ill, the son would assume duties of the family that were his. When the father passes on to his eternal reward, his legacy would continue through his sons. While both parents share a special bond that is deeply personal, the bond father and son share is one in many instances of teacher and student, master and apprentice. It can also be said that when one succeeds, the one most proud of the person is their teacher. For the student received the wisdom of the teacher with joy, applied it, and used it to become successful. As a result, the legacy of the one instructing is furthered thanks to the wisdom of the student. In this sense, the father becomes exceedingly glad when his son applies the wisdom he gives.

We now turn to the mother. There are those women today who view the concept “women are more emotional and personal than men” with scorn and contempt. I do not think this should be the case. Yes women are more emotional and personal, yet it is through a mother we best learn the concept of love. It is through the mother we learn the rules of how to interact with others morally. It is the mother who puts aside her personal feelings, and sacrifices much to raise a child, and to do so with love. The bond that is formed from carrying that child and giving birth to the child is immense. Even more so I would argue when that child is a boy. Men, by their makeup, for some reason have a lot harder time learning love and compassion than a woman. It is through the mother they learn these necessary virtues. That is the wisdom the woman of God imparts to her son. Many times the father counsels the son to learn justice, and the mother counsels the son to learn love. Since love is something far more personal than justice, when the person spurns love, the wisdom the mother taught, her pain is deep. Also there is the fact that she brought the fool into the world. Her love may never wander, but there is a sense of shame that her son refused to listen to the wisdom imparted by the family.

Treasures of wickedness shall profit nothing: but justice shall deliver from death.

There are many in Hollywood and the corporate sector that would seem to disagree with the first part of this saying. For their wickedness, they have amassed quite a bit of profit. Yet that isn’t Solomon’s point. Rather, does that profit really mean anything long term? What eternal consequences does that profit have? Contrasted here are the pragmatist and the man of God.

The pragmatist believes that profit comes before justice. It matters little if great evil occurs in the generation of that profit, for the profit is to be desired above all else, so the end (success) justifies the means used to get there. Society without the light of God has always admired the pragmatist. Even more so does a secular society. Since there is no life after this worth meaning, we are counseled to get all we can in this life. That is how we can live forever, by acquiring everything we can, no matter what the cost. Then forever will we be remembered. However, this is a fantasy world the pragmatist creates. When he meets reality, he will not find success, but emptiness. He will find nothing. That is what hell is. Hell is not just fire and brimstone and torture. Hell is emptiness. It is fatalism, where all you wish is that the emptiness would go away. Yet it never does. It is an eternity absent of love, absent of purpose, absent of justice. It is the apex of evil, deprived of any good.

Combined with this eternal consequence, the temporal life of the pragmatist tends to be short. For as they attempt to destroy anything in its path, no matter the consequence, they will soon find others seek to do the same to them. The pragmatist nowadays is ruthless when benefiting himself, yet the minute pragmatism benefits others he cries foul. There are businesses that have sought to destroy all competition no matter what. Yet when someone sets its sights on them, they go running to the federal government demanding that market be regulated, all in their favor of course. It is a life of paranoia, believing everyone is out to get you. Once you acquire that power and success, the only thing that matters is holding onto it. All pragmatists who gain power worry about only one thing, losing that power. As such, normally they become even more depraved and pragmatic than before. It is a tragic life with a sad ending.

Contrasted with the pragmatist is the man of God. When dealing with others, the man of God seeks fairness and justice in all he does. Success is not his primary goal, justice is. He reasons a business known for its fairness is ultimately more important in the long run than a business known for it’s deceit, which has no loyalty save the bottom line. He normally rejects the concept “its business, nothing personal.” As business takes place between two persons, in a sense business most certainly is personal, and therefore you must deal accordingly to their rights as a person, created in the image of God.

I believe that not only does this form of living save one from hell, it saves one from misfortune having too much an impact. No matter what we may do, misfortune will hit us. Yet the man who seeks justice, many times others will remember that justice, and will aide the man when he now suffers. Churches will be far more willing to give to a man of justice than a freeloader who thinks only of himself. Furthermore, God will remember the way he dealt with others, and deal with him in kind. All throughout Scripture this principle is enunciated. Christ tells us that if we do not forgive the sins of others, our sins will not be forgiven. He tells us to judge fairly, or judge not lest we be judged. The letter of James counsels us to seek judgment by the law of liberty, rather than a law of condemnation. God pays attention to the actions we do towards others. It is in these actions our devotion to God are demonstrated. While the man of God normally does not compare to the pragmatist in success short run or on Earth, in the long run and in heaven he enjoys true riches and success.

The slothful hand hath wrought poverty: but the hand of the industrious getteth riches.

We see here an exhortation to productivity. While we are here on this earth, we might as well make the best of it. Many times the issue is not that of who experiences and who doesn’t experience hardship and problems. Hardship does not discriminate according to class or persons. It indeed was the first equal opportunity employer. The question becomes what one does once they experience that hardship. Do they sit around and whine how bad things are? Or do they roll up their sleeves, sacrifice their goods and their pride, and begin rebuilding? That rebuilding process can mean taking a job one finds degrading. It may mean doing things previously one would never do. It means at times denying you comforts, and rather working with necessity. Such an attitude and enactment of such attitude more times than not leads to success.

For the slothful it is a different story. Constantly he whines about his plight, and blames everyone but himself. He sits along waiting for someone to come bail him out. He waits for charity, he waits for the Church, and he waits for the ultimate giver today, the government. Government will solve his problems. You may give up your independence, your freedom, and the creativity God gave you to overcome adversity in doing so, but for you, the bailout is all that matters. The slothful is a man of pride. He waits around lazy, believing everyone else should fix the problem for him. The industrious realizes that no matter how he got into the situation, whether he put himself in it or other circumstances did, it will ultimately be himself who pulls through it. That requires using the creativity and wisdom God gave him.

He that gathered in the harvest is a wise son: but he that snorteth in the summer, is the son of confusion.

Here we see the contrast between those who have vision, and those who don’t. The vision in this sense is since we do not know what the future brings, we should prepare for it accordingly. When the crop was plentiful, the wise son gathered crops for those around him, so that when the crops were not there, they could eat. Likewise, those who prepare themselves for hardship by saving up for example, hardship is a lot less devastating. And for those who are prepared, opportunity knocks far more often. As the old saying goes, chance favors the prepared mind. For he who prepares for things, when opportunity comes, he has a head start, rather than preparing for the opportunity, then acting upon it right when opportunity comes.

For the son of confusion, he is confused because he does not see beyond his own two eyes. He does not look ahead. Therefore, when hardship comes, he is overwhelmed, not sure what to do, that lack of vision now leads to further indecisiveness. He instead chooses to “live for the moment.” How many times do we go “I’m just going to forget about my worries, my cares, and act on instinct, act on what’s in front of me, and not worry about the future!” Success matters little in this instance. Rather, the person is reckless. He might get lucky once, but if he continues that pattern, it will catch up to him. Furthermore, success teaches him nothing, since all he looks at is the present. He does not remember what he did to get there, nor will he look at what is in the future. Some may find an approach “bold”, living life to its fullest. The way I see it, you had better “live it to the fullest” because you won’t be around long to enjoy it.

In the first 5 verses we see a very consistent approach to wisdom, and a very consistent approach to foolishness. The path to wisdom remembers what he is taught, seeks fairness in all he does, is creative in applying that wisdom, and prepares for the road ahead. The fool remembers nothing, seeks fortune over justice, is lazy, or is too impulsive. Many of these seem to contradict each other. I do not think that is chance. When you do not follow the consistent path of wisdom, you follow just about every other path thinking it is the path to success. As G.K. Chesterton once remarked something along the lines of “When you stop believing in God, it’s not that you believe in nothing, it’s that you’ll believe in anything”. The path of the Lord is one that is a sure guide. The path of this world is a path of confusion, ultimately leading to death.

God Bless,
Kevin M. Tierney