Saturday, June 02, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (9)

Do you remember a few years ago there was a rash of child psychologists telling parents not to say no to their children? Maybe there still is, but I’m past the stage of life where finding optimal child-rearing techniques is an urgent matter; I probably wouldn’t notice.

Anyway, it seems to me the rationale was something along the lines of “No” being an abstraction that is not aligned with the need of young children to explore their world and to develop their sense of autonomy and initiative.

Still, I remember finding the word moderately useful, so I’ve always wondered how voluntarily abandoning the use of it worked out for the parents and their kids. My guess is probably not well.

A Bogus Strategy

The Christian knows such a strategy is bogus, not least because sometimes a full explanation of why doing a thing is a bad idea is quite impossible given the level of development of the child, or may be undesirable for other perfectly good reasons.

Even in Eden, when dealing with a functional adult tasked with working and keeping a garden, God does not walk Adam through his rationale for forbidding eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He does not explain the modifications to human consciousness that will result, that sin will enter the world and that Adam will cede his rule of the planet to Satan. Nor does God cater to natural curiosity. He simply says, “You shall not eat,” and warns of death, a concept Adam surely cannot fully grasp.

Essentially, it’s a big “No.”

Then there’s the Ten Commandments. We all know how those start. So hey, if it’s good enough for God, I figure it’s good enough for Christian parents.

In any case, Solomon was no modern parent. In this passage he’s going to say no to his sons eight different times.

4. The Blessings of Wisdom (Proverbs 3:13-35)

Negative Ministry

To be fair, given the sorts of topics Solomon is discussing, it’s evident at least some of his children were old enough to understand abstractions. Even so, Solomon doesn’t always give full explanations. These are proverbs, after all: sometimes there’s room for a rationale; other times the rationale is self-evident; in other cases still, Solomon’s reasoning may be a little opaque to us.

So let’s sit back and digest some negative ministry.

1. DO NOT lose sight of wisdom and discretion (v21-24).  Here Solomon is summing up verses 13 through 20, in which he has listed seven reasons wisdom is of great value. He tells the reader wisdom will be “life for your soul and adornment for your neck.” He adds that wisdom will enable you to avoid major mistakes (“your foot will not stumble”), that wisdom inspires confidence (“you will not be afraid”), and that acting with discretion eases the mind (“when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet”). This is certainly true. When I climb into bed at night, even when the day has gone badly in some respects, if I am sure that I acted lovingly and biblically throughout it, I have no regrets to rehearse and no confessions to make.

2. DO NOT fear (v25-26).  Storms often blow up with little warning. It is a rare person that encounters no genuinely scary experiences in life.

Here it is not entirely clear whether Solomon is saying, “Do not be afraid when you see wicked men being ruined,” or “Do not fear when you see the ruin that wickedness produces.” In either case, the promise to the wise is that in bad times “the Lord will be your confidence” and that he will keep wise men from being caught up in the storm around them.

I think of the difference between David’s two counselors when his murderous son Absalom tried to seize the kingdom from him. In one case you have great intellect (the traitorous Ahithophel) and in the other, genuine wisdom (the loyal and empathetic Hushai). The story reminds us that mere pragmatism is not wisdom. Hushai was preserved by God despite putting his life on the line by spying for the king, while Ahithophel ended up committing suicide when Absalom ignored his advice.

In short, the truly wise path is the moral path, not the (apparently) risk-free one.

3. DO NOT duck responsibility (v27).  The wise person in a position of power is not to be stingy about dispensing justice. Here the idea is that there is someone in need of (and deserving of) your help, though there may be solid, logical reasons not to get involved. Again, wisdom takes the moral path, not the pragmatic one.

Is this an unlikely scenario for you or me? Not necessarily. You don’t have to be a federal judge to withhold good. A co-worker may need a witness to a situation in which she is being harassed on the job, but the harasser is your boss. Equally, a boss you don’t like may be falsely accused of harassment by a co-worker you do like. Speaking up in either situation is likely to make you enemies and may not be in your immediate best interest, but wisdom would say, “Do not withhold good.”

4. DO NOT delay (v28).  Again, because proverbs are generally pithy, the situation is only loosely sketched out. We don’t know whether the needy neighbor is looking for a loan or just wanting you to return his lawnmower promptly. But wisdom says, “Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it’ — when you have it with you.” That’s only fair. His need may be greater than you know, and putting him off may burn a bridge you’re going to need later, while acting promptly in his best interests will almost surely generate goodwill.

5. DO NOT conspire (v29).  Here the “neighbor” lives right next door. There is a certain logic to keeping the peace where you live. Someone who owns adjacent property has a fair bit of access to yours. Who wants to be looking over his shoulder all the time?

If it seems odd to imagine planning evil against a neighbor … well, you don’t have my neighbor. She’s part banshee, I’m convinced. But for a more biblical illustration, think no further than King Ahab and his obsession with his own neighbor’s property. Naboth’s vineyard would have made a great vegetable garden, but his neighbor was disinclined to sell and na├»ve enough to assume even the king would respect the law of God. The plot devised by Ahab’s wife Jezebel was wicked to the core, and the result was God’s judgment on both partners. Despite its effectiveness, wisdom suggests rejecting Jezebel’s plan was the sounder move.

6. DO NOT contend (v30).  Here the instruction is more general: don’t pick fights you don’t need to, though sometimes doing so can be tempting. Again, the life of David has plenty of useful illustrations. When on the run from Absalom, David was accosted by a man named Shimei who bore a grudge on behalf of his family. Shimei cursed at David and threw stones at him and his servants. He was contending unnecessarily with a man who had personally done him no harm.

Contentious people tend to get what’s coming to them. David let the insult slide. He was uncontentious even in the face of harm, though he could have easily ordered his loyal servants to decapitate Shimei on the spot. Later, Shimei ran afoul of David’s son Solomon, who, remembering the offense, was less concerned than David about his henchman getting blood on his sword.

Wise men do not pick fights unnecessarily. There’s plenty of contention in life just from dealing with the unavoidable.

7. DO NOT envy the violent (v31).  A man of violence gets things done. David’s general Joab was remarkably efficient, dispatching enemy after enemy of the king, usually against David’s wishes. At times one even sympathizes with Joab. His speech to David after killing Absalom was spot-on. He must have wondered why David was so disinclined to advance his interests pragmatically.

Yet David did not. Things usually do not end well for violent men, and they did not end well for Joab.

8. DO NOT emulate the violent (v31).  Here the explanation is a little longer, and the description of the “man of violence” is more fully fleshed out. He is devious (v32), wicked (v33), a scorner (v34) and a fool (v35). Again, Shimei and his rock-throwing come to mind. This was not a smart guy. He scorned a king in front of a bunch of soldiers with swords. He threw rocks at an army. He held a grudge for years against David that was based entirely on false information, as David had done no wrong to Saul despite severe provocation. And to top it all off, he was so incapable of doing a simple cost-benefit analysis that he chased a couple of servants to another nation in defiance of his own king and at the cost of his life. Not someone to emulate, though he certainly got to express his opinion.

But then some opinions are not worthy of expression.

No comments :

Post a Comment