Monday, February 07, 2022

Anonymous Asks (183)

“Conventional wisdom disagrees with an increasing number of Bible proverbs. Is it possible some were of their own time and do not apply to us today?”

Last week I began going through Proverbs with a fine-tooth comb in an effort to answer this question. I tried to select those sayings which seem the most foreign to our modern mindset, in order to set the current “wisdom of the world” side by side with the wisdom of God.

So far the wisdom of God is looking pretty relevant to the present day.

5/ The Late Night Talk-Show Host

Insincerity is the new sincerity, or so the thinking goes. A postmodern mindset requires a postmodern data delivery system ... to the extent it cares about information content at all.

You may be alarmed to find that almost 60% of 13-39-year-olds get their “news” — and therefore their perception of reality — from video rather than text, much of it delivered via YouTube in a style popularized a generation ago by late night talk show hosts like David Letterman, then refined by Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon and James Corden. The technique owes more to snark and innuendo than actual information. It is sly and cynical rather than reflective or analytical.

The effect has been to normalize Progressivist tropes by assuming their correctness rather than proving it, and by relentlessly mocking their critics. You certainly don’t want to be as unhip as they are!

The book of Proverbs points out this is not the way righteous men make their case to the public:

“A wicked man goes about with crooked speech, winks with his eyes, signals with his feet, points with his finger.”

A man who has to manipulate you with nothing but “nudge nudge wink wink” is invariably trying to take you somewhere he can’t get you with facts. Chances are that even today he is not on the side of the angels. The good ones, that is.

6/ Love and Child Abuse

Secular experts agree that spanking increases anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties. They say “the science” demonstrates corporal punishment of children does not produce the desired result, as a consequence of which it has been outlawed in 53 member states of the UN. Even Christian commentators cannot resist the suggestion that “the rod” in Proverbs:

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”

“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.”

“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.”

is figurative rather than literal.

So then, is “the rod” merely metonymy for a disciplinary process that might include a stern talking to or a time out? Or, as Wendy Alsup puts it, “When you read ‘rod of discipline’, think shepherding staff that trains in righteousness.”

Personally, I think Wendy has conflated the shepherd’s rod of Psalm 23 (which many commentators agree was not for the sheep, but probably used to drive off or subdue predators) with the rod used in Proverbs by a father to strike a child for the child’s long term moral benefit. They are not the same thing. I have both given and received the modern equivalent of “the rod” in love, and have observed that not all children need corporal punishment frequently or at all, but the ones who need it really need it. All the truly dysfunctional teens and twenty-somethings I know had parents who never once disciplined them physically.

Does that mean all parents should incorporate corporal punishment into their child-rearing playbook? Not at all. A parent who is immature, or unsaved, or who struggles with substance abuse problems or anger issues cannot be expected to use such a tool responsibly, though a discerning Christian parent with his own spirit under strict control who has his child’s welfare foremost among his goals may use it very effectively.

The question is whether as a parent you have enough self-knowledge to know which category you fall into. Many parents don’t. That’s not a reflection on Solomon or on the truth of what he wrote; it’s simply a reminder that in both scripture and life, exercising authority effectively requires being under authority yourself.

7/ Pass the Nice ’n Easy

Proverbs says:

“The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.”

Here is one aphorism that initially seems a bit past its prime. Many big corporations don’t believe it, and as a consequence are packaging off their experienced hands in their early fifties and replacing them with the next class of college graduates. That strategy may save money on salaries in the short term, but my observation is that it has led to sharp decreases in quality, leadership, work ethic and ownership of responsibility in the workplace. A somewhat amusing byproduct of this rampant ageism is that many professional men in their late forties are making more use of Clairol® products than their wives.

That doesn’t make Solomon wrong. It just means our modern value system is skewed. We don’t recognize the value of experience. We would be wise not to let the world’s attitude to gray hair influence our choices in the area of church leadership.

8/ Counterintuitive but True

This one is not so much outdated as just hard to believe:

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”

In this world, you do not generally get more by holding on to less. Math doesn’t work that way. But that fails to recognize the supernatural component in Solomon’s reasoning. We are not talking about mere physics here, but about what happens when the Almighty God is pleased with the way we order our lives. As unlikely as it appears, this principle worked then and it still works today. I’ve seen it in action.

Moreover, the New Testament also insists unconventional priorities are the way to ensure the Christian has what he needs. Giving the “firstfruits”, however that may be applied in your life or mine, is not just a principle that worked under the Old Covenant but one that God still honors in the church age. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

Counterintuitive, yes, but true all the same.

In Summary

Some proverbs are indeed “of their own time”. That does not make them irrelevant to us today, though we do need to make the effort to understand what the writers of these sayings were really telling their audiences, and to apply them discerningly and consistently in our own circumstances.

In the case of every “controversial” or “outdated” proverb I could find, the conventional wisdom about it was simply wrong.

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