Saturday, September 08, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (23)

“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”

They say there is no free lunch, but Wisdom and Folly are out advertising one. Their message is delivered in the same venues: the highest places of the town, where everybody can hear them and see the long-term results of responding to one or the other. They have the same ad campaign, and they target the same hungry demographic. They reach out to those in need of a set of principles by which they can order their lives. Both metaphorical “women” offer to meet that very common need, but only one can really do so, for reasons that will shortly become evident.

Solomon contrasts living wisely and living foolishly.

10. Wisdom and Folly Contrasted (Proverbs 9:1-6; 13-18)

Option #1
“Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine;
    she has also set her table.
She has sent out her young women to call
    from the highest places in the town,
‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’
    To him who lacks sense she says,
‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.’ ”
Option #2
“The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing.
She sits at the door of her house;
    she takes a seat on the highest places of the town,
calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way,
‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’
    And to him who lacks sense she says,
‘Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.’
But he does not know that the dead are there,
    that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.”
Two options in life. Two thoughts about them:

Underpromising and Overdelivering

In scripture, bread represents the most basic things men and women need to live. It’s often used as a stand-in for sustenance generally. In a fallen world, we must break a sweat to get it.

But add wine to the mix, and you add merriment. Life with a little joy. The psalmist says bread is for strength, but wine is for gladness. Bread will get you through. Wine will get you through with a little gusto. So Wisdom offers intellectual, moral and spiritual sustenance that will carry you through this life with contentment rather than regret.

My parents’ caregivers often remark about how much they enjoy the atmosphere in their home. Often they are not sufficiently articulate or tuned in to their own feelings to express precisely what it is that makes my parents different, but having been around plenty of seniors, saved and unsaved, I can tell you exactly what it is: it’s gladness. Despite the physical and emotional difficulties inherent in aging, there is an undercurrent of gratefulness and contentment in their home that sets it apart.

That would be not just bread but wine, supplied from Heaven. Folly, we note, has no wine to share. All she has is water.

Part of the sorrow that comes with choosing Folly’s way of life over Wisdom’s is this: that Wisdom always underpromises and overdelivers, while Folly does just the opposite. Wisdom offers bread and wine, but has prepared a feast too. There is meat on the table. Folly offers bread and water, but there’s no banquet table at which to recline. You get the singular pleasure of scarfing down a dry crust in a dark corner.

Originality and Apery

Worse, Folly’s water is stolen, and her bread must be eaten secretly because it was probably nicked from the same place she got the water. In fact, everything Folly has to offer actually belongs to Wisdom. Or did at least. She wouldn’t want it back now.

Will Durant opined that every vice was once a virtue. That may not be precisely accurate but it’s not far off. I would say vices can only be defined in terms of virtues, either as their absence or as some twisted, bloated, disproportionate version of them. Satan is expert at warping, contaminating, mutilating and debasing, but he cannot really create anything original. Folly is a parrot, an ape and a mimic, but not a particularly good one.

Thus a wise man recognizes what is valuable. A foolish man either overlooks it or pursues it by dishonorable means. A wise man seeks knowledge, while a foolish man is either content to be ignorant or becomes a sophist. The wise man is moderate, while the foolish man either abstains altogether or wildly overindulges. The wise man maintains a godly confidence in the face of attack, while the foolish man either cowers in fear or rushes in rashly to counterattack. The wise man thinks accurately about himself, while the foolish man either writes himself off entirely or has a disproportionate estimate of his own abilities. The wise man is charitable, while the foolish man is stingy, greedy or both.

Every idea Folly offers is stolen from Wisdom and bent out of shape. Thus, socialism is little more than a sense of fairness gone berserk. It takes the wise observation that no man is an island, that we are all connected by various social relationships and responsibilities, and makes the collective of infinite importance, leaving men and women with nothing that is their own, and therefore nothing to steward, tend or share for the benefit of themselves, their families or others. By way of contrast, a prudent and ordinate sense of fairness doesn’t break the economy trying to equalize what cannot be made equal; it happily shares voluntarily as it encounters need or has opportunity.

Virtually every bad idea starts as a good one, but no bad idea is truly original.

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