Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
Last week we noted that one has two reliable sources of wisdom: God and one’s parents. However, we might alter this slightly to include the adjective “godly” to describe our parents. If one’s parents are not godly, then they cannot offer much in the way of wisdom. Everything else is a tertiary source of wisdom. This truth invites harmful consequences for the one listening to the wrong source of wisdom. Solomon warns that sinners seek to seduce you with their words (Proverbs 1.10-19).
But what do we mean by “sinner”? We have in mind those who habitually sin, not just those who have yet to enter a covenant relationship with God. In other words, these individuals make no pretense of doing good or being righteous. Solomon’s example seems extreme to us since we have a blood-thirsty gang willing to kill to plunder others’ property. How could anyone be seduced into committing an act God hates (Proverbs 6.16-19)? Unfortunately, it is not as difficult as you might think.
Adolph Hitler remains an easy illustrative target because he is so infamous. However, during an economic depression, Hitler rose to power, promising a return to prosperity. Hitler convinced the Germans that only the Jews stood between them and their restoration. Hitler was charismatic, and he had helpers like Joseph Goebbels, able to package his message for easy consumption. How many otherwise “good” Germans turned a blind eye to atrocities committed under the pretense of creating the thousand-year reign of the Third Reich?
When Patton discovered the atrocities committed at Buchenwald, he brought the locals into the concentration camp to see what had happened there. Some still feigned ignorance, but one eyewitness at the time declared that one could smell death in the air even outside the camp. “Death” has an unmistakable smell. Visitors to the concentration camps of Europe have told me that the scent lingers today. It is inconceivable that they didn’t know that something nefarious happened behind the locked gates of Buchenwald.
I’ve watched enough documentaries to note how many older Germans living during that time say that Hitler had them under a spell. And some of the Hitler youth have struggled to adjust to the post-war world. But today, it is common for Germans to refer to the events of the Second World War as the liberation of Germany by the Allied Forces. In other words, contemporary Germans see the period of Nazi rule as an occupation even though the citizenry widely supported Hitler at that time.
But what of a “softer” despotism? We have U.S. politicians parroting the Marxist ideology of redistribution. (“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”) And younger generations are quick to point out the disparity between the salary of the CEO and the employee, even though the CEO may have blood and sweat equity invested in his business and that no job would exist for the employer without him. And there is this disconnect between those desiring that we plunder the “rich” and redistribute to the “poor” and the “foot soldiers” willing to “Occupy Wall Street.” The latter may be ready to commit violence to achieve revolutionary goals, but those sympathetic are likewise content to stay silent as the rabble fights. Lest we forget, the failed economic ideology of Karl Marx has never worked anywhere it has been tried. Furthermore, it has given us men like Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong, who have killed far more of their citizens than even Hitler did of the Jews.
It is much easier to follow a multitude to do evil than we care to admit. Thus, Moses warned against such (Exodus 23.2). It is a matter of companionship. As Paul warns, if we surround ourselves with evil people, it will corrupt our good morals (1 Corinthians 15.33). On the other hand, if we tolerate the presence of evil, we will discover its shared nature with yeast that permeates the dough into which one introduces it (1 Corinthians 5.6). This cascading effect is one of the reasons a church must practice discipline when needed (1 Corinthians 5.1ff).
Lady Wisdom’s call stands in stark contrast (Proverbs 1.20-33). But, like the effort required to enter the narrow way (Matthew 7.13-14), one must be determined to hear her voice over the noisy crowds (1.21). Lady Wisdom is especially desirous to grab the attention of three groups: simpletons, mockers, and fools. Simpleton sounds derogatory but means that one is gullible. Aren’t the gullible especially vulnerable to the misinformation supplied by the tertiary sources of earthly wisdom? Indeed. And it is not necessarily a matter of ignorance, but lack of experience making them simpletons.
Mockers, also called scoffers, are those flouting God’s authority. As with the simpleton, this does not mean one is stupid. Instead, a mocker chooses to be such by his disposition. Like the pharaoh to whom Moses spoke, mockers ask, “Who is God that I should hear His voice?” (Exodus 5.2) Finally, we have the fool. As we have said previously, “fool” has nothing to do with intellectual capacity. A biblical fool is a morally deficient person despising wisdom and discipline. Thus, the fool is “happier” living without the intrusive “advice” of a Creator God.
But as Lady Wisdom warns, her unheard pleas will become a calamity for those refusing her counsel. And on that day, not only will she not be an advocate at one’s side, but she will join the chorus of laughter at their downfall (1.26). Lady Wisdom sounds cruel, but truthfully, she is just a strict teacher. She knows that one eats the fruit of his own way (1.31, cf. Galatians 6.7-8). Thus, she leaves you to your own devices. And the isolation one feels when facing the consequences of his actions is not even abated by the knowledge that God’s grace is available to forgive. The fallen one wishes he could call on Lady Wisdom but realizes that all she can tell him now is, “I tried to tell you.”
David illustrates this feeling of loneliness in facing the consequences well in Psalm 51. Do you recall his misery? He could feel the separation between himself and God. He cried out to God to restore the joy of his salvation (Psalm 51.12). As recompense, David would then teach others (Psalm 51.13). We might add that bargaining is a noted process of grief. David was grieving. It mattered not that David knew God could forgive him because he still felt that loneliness that began when Nathan pointed the finger at him and said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12.7). Lady Wisdom was absent from David. Even if present, all she could have done was remind him of what he had done wrong.
Today, Lady Wisdom still calls. Can you hear her? You may have to strain to listen to her over the world’s noise. But do not spurn her invitation lest you share the fate of the simpleton, mocker, and fool. Instead, hear her offer of security and peace of mind (1.33) and accept her counsel.