Saturday, March 30, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (52)

Nobody likes being tested. Jordan Peterson talks about taking the LSAT:

“I wanted to become a corporate lawyer — had written the Law School Admissions Test, had taken two years of appropriate preliminary courses. I wanted to learn the ways of my enemies, and embark on a political career. This plan disintegrated. The world obviously did not need another lawyer.”

Admittedly, you have to read between the lines there, but it sounds like it didn’t go well.

The “Men of Hezekiah” Proverbs (Proverbs 27:21-27)

Everyone undergoes testing at one point or another, whether you are a Canadian university professor, the patriarch Abraham, or even the Lord Jesus himself. These seven verses describe the different sorts of ways in which human character is revealed.

Into the Crucible
“The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
and a man is tested by his praise.”
The true mark of character is not how men and women behave when times are tough, but when everybody thinks they’re wonderful. When hungry or persecuted, families and neighborhoods often come together and everyone outdoes one another in displaying character. But being on top of the world is a recipe for childishness and acting out. It is awfully hard not to come to believe one’s reviews when the reviews are always positive.

Crushed to Powder
“Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain,
yet his folly will not depart from him.”
A mortar is a bowl, and a pestle is a small club. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but men and women have used them since ancient times. Together, they serve to reduce coarser substances to paste or powder, usually for the purpose of cooking. Basically, you use the pestle to smash the relevant medium (in this case, crushed grain) against the unyielding surface of the mortar until it becomes mush.

Vivid enough for you? Obviously the bit about crushing a fool is not to be taken literally. You would need a very large mortar and pestle, not to mention some serious muscle. The point of the proverb is this: foolishness is highly resistant to correction, to the point where virtually no amount of suffering and loss — no accumulation of the inevitable consequences of his folly — causes the fool to stop and reflect.

That’s a terrifying moral state to willingly fall into. It’s usually accomplished with a spectacular amount of denial.

But let’s assume it’s as hard for folly to depart from a fool as for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Tough to imagine, but let’s assume it. As the Lord Jesus told Peter, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

There is still hope. There is always hope. Remember that when the fool in question is your neighbor, your friend or, God forbid, your son.

Back to Basics
Know well the condition of your flocks,
and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever;
and does a crown endure to all generations?
When the grass is gone and the new growth appears
and the vegetation of the mountains is gathered,
the lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field.
There will be enough goats’ milk for your food,
for the food of your household and maintenance for your girls.”
One family with which I am passingly familiar has throughout its recent history produced alternate generations capable of producing considerable wealth: somehow, every second generation manages to have a financial disaster, and the generation that follows builds the whole thing up again.

In a world in which everything does not always go as planned, it makes very good sense to know how to go back to the basics when necessary.

Solomon ruled over Israel at the absolute acme of its national glory; Israel will only ever be greater during the millennial reign of Jesus Christ. So it may seem a little odd to find him counseling his son to consider how to makes ends meet when the glory fades, though it is certainly consistent with the gloom of Solomon’s meditations in Ecclesiastes. This particular bit of counsel reflects the awareness of a student of history: riches indeed do not last forever. Solomon’s son Rehoboam, a political novice despite the benefit of his father’s sage advice, promptly alienated ten of the twelve tribes of Israel and found himself presiding over a mere fraction of his father’s kingdom. He was probably in no danger of having to take up goat-herding, but the difference in his stature from the beginning to end of his reign was significant.

Is there anything for us in this? After all, virtually all citizens of First World countries have given up agrarian pursuits, moved into the cities and learned to build wealth in less traditional ways than goat-herding. Dozens of occupations have come to exist in which one produces no actual salable physical product — fund manager, office worker, consultant, lawyer, market analyst, political fixer, actor, musician, pundit, community organizer or life coach, to list only a few random examples. All are currently viable to a greater or lesser degree in prosperous Western economies, but remain viable only so long as the political and economic winds are favorable. Life in a country at war or subject to civil unrest is an entirely different proposition.

Solomon’s counsel to his son is that despite his stature and affluence, he is wise to remain in touch with the basics of life. It is eminently sensible to develop a skill that remains marketable no matter what sort of turn the economy takes, and whether one lives in time of war, peace or civil unrest. People will always need carpenters, plumbers, electricians, stonemasons and engineers. In times of crisis, people who can grow food or preserve it are at a premium, along with anyone who can competently hunt, fish, clean game, build, and work with tools. How about medical skills? Also good.

If you think everything will always be exactly as you have known it to be since you were born, you may find Solomon’s advice simple-minded. And if you happen to be one of the 3 or 4% of human beings to live through seventy or eighty years of good times, perhaps you don’t need it.

For everyone else, it remains sound counsel.

No comments :

Post a Comment