Saturday, May 19, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (7)

Have you ever taken one of those biological age tests that are all the rage on the internet? (Warning: most are designed to pitch you something at the end.)

There is probably some marginal utility to such things. Obviously you have an actual age, and that age cannot change; the year you were born is the year you were born. But the medical reality at the root of these tests is that the number and intensity of stressors in your daily life tend to shorten it, while the absence of such stressors will, at very least, not make things any worse. Thus your “biological age”, as these folks define it, is something akin to your own personal doomsday clock.

Do you smoke? Lose five years. More than two drinks a day? Ooh, you’re in trouble. Hate your job or sleep too little? Another strike or two. Depending on your situation and habits, you may start to wonder why you haven’t keeled over already.

Stressors and Proverbial Remedies

Not every stressor has a Bible proverb that directly addresses it, but many have more than one. Even modern habits like smoking may too, if only by application. So when Solomon tells his son, “Let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you,” he’s not saying anything that medical science wouldn’t at least grudgingly nod along with. All else being equal, a life lived in accordance with the wisdom of Proverbs will be longer than one that isn’t.

Solomon and medical science: the two bodies of advice for living overlap significantly, but the difference between them is this: Solomon attributes his wisdom to God. That’s a pretty significant area of departure. He says God “stores up sound wisdom for the upright.” Whatever Solomon is about to say that may lengthen the life of his audience, he heard it first from Heaven, either directly or at one or two removes.

Thus it’s about time for Solomon to introduce the Author of Wisdom and give him his due credit.

3. The Author of Wisdom (Proverbs 3:1-12)

Jehovah in Proverbs

God has, of course, been name-checked more than once in the first two chapters of Proverbs. In the first chapter we are told, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” In chapter 2, we learn that if you prize wisdom and search for it, “you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Solomon then declares that all wisdom originates with God, and follows that by speaking of the forbidden woman who “forgets the covenant of her God”.

What follows will therefore not surprise the attentive reader. In addition to obedience to his commandments, Solomon recommends steadfast love and faithfulness, but the ultimate purpose of these is “so you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.” Naturally, God comes first. It is not a matter of success by worldly standards or success by the measurer’s own metrics, but rather success by the standard of God’s own righteous judgment. To hear the commendation “Well done, good and faithful servant” should be the aspiration of every believer. To be approved by man is simply a relatively insignificant bonus to the big prize.

Five Critical God-Related Instructions

Solomon follows this with five critical God-related instructions, obedience to which demonstrates we are on the right road: trust, acknowledge, fear, honor and submit.

1. Trust. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”  If you are drowning and I say to you, “Stop thrashing and let me support you,” you may either trust your own estimation of the situation (and of my capability to save you), or you may trust mine. If you trust your own, you will keep kicking and flailing uselessly, and probably drag us both down. If you trust mine, you will do what is completely counterintuitive to you in your panicked state, stop flapping around and let your weight fall on me, whereupon there is a chance we may both make it to shore. In a lake, this sort of thing is rarely an intellectual decision. In life, we generally have a few moments to consider our choices. But the bottom line is always a matter of the heart. You either trust or you do not, and life’s choices prove which it is.

2. Acknowledge. “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”  The teenager playing football is sometimes reluctant to be seen acknowledging his mother sitting in the bleachers. His teammates might call him a “mommy’s boy” or worse. What the teen needs to remember is that his mother was there for him from the moment he was born, and will be there for him when every one of his teammate’s names are long forgotten. Some relationships are more important than others. You prioritize the ones that last longest and mean the most. To forget that is a failure of loyalty and a significant miscalculation of value. The same applies when we walk into a new work environment and the thought of running up the colors of our faith in a roomful of blue-haired Progressives seems like an iffy idea. It’s not. It never is. Everything that follows depends on it.

3. Fear. “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”  Eve messed up on this one, as did Korah, Saul and many others who had a “better” plan in mind than the one God had previously and clearly spelled out. But the Hebrew yare' does not always mean nothing more daunting than a mere genuflecting religiosity. A dose of something stronger than reverence was in order in each of these historical cases; some genuine awe, astonishment, dread or paranoia about what it really means to defy the God of heaven would have been immensely useful to those who later crossed the line and paid the price for it. The end product of fear, after all, is healing and refreshment, not misery and cowering.

4. Honor. “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce.”  It’s amazing how many years it took me to get this one straight, but there is no other path for the believer. God gets his first. That’s the bottom line. All blessing flows from that.

5. Submit. “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof.”  Submission is a New Testament concept Christians tend to associate mostly with the roles of women, children and slaves, but in fact all of us need to adopt the same attitude toward God at all times, as we ought to many of our other earthly relationships. The word “submit” is not specifically used here, but the concept is clearly relevant. One who truly takes the place in which he belongs does not question the sort of discipline required to bring him into the correct state of being, nor does he cry out for it to cease when it becomes the slightest bit hard to endure. At his core, he knows it is all for his own good. Love and delight are behind it.

The Source of All Wisdom

Wisdom did not evolve with mankind. It is not a product of hundreds of thousands of years of humankind’s corporate experience somehow encoded into our genes. It is a gift from heaven, its author is God, and its basis is not lore or book-knowledge but an ongoing relationship.

Not the worst advice to give your kid, especially if one day he may be king.

And even if he won’t.

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