Posts tagged wisdom
I love Matthew 25! In this one chapter, Jesus addresses the need for preparation, for taking risks, for wisdom and for the care of other human beings. Here, Jesus, the master story-teller, just keeps popping out stories to teach us and remind us of these eternal truths. For the sake of time, I will touch on only one of the three main parables here.
In the parable of the men with the bags of gold, I love how Jesus highlights the risk that these men take. You see, without the words of the third servant, the actions of the first two wouldn’t have carried nearly as much weight. What did the third servant say?
“I knew that you are a hard man…so I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground.”
You have to wonder what would have happened to those first two servants if, instead of investing the money wisely, they had done something to loose their master’s money. But you see, even when the stakes are high, Jesus encourages us to take a risk – especially when that risk is guided by the Holy Spirit. God never asks us to play it safe or to do only that which we know will succeed. That has never been his M.O.
But there’s another piece to this story and, once again, it comes through the master’s interaction with the third servant. At some level, the master understands the servant’s hesitancy to invest the money, but he says, “you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.”
For those who would say, “I know God asks other people to take big risks, but I’m just not one of those people,” God gives us this example. If you don’t want to take a big risk for God, why not invest in low-risk things that still have a payoff? Aren’t ready to move half-way around the world and live in a third-world country? Why not go help out at the local homeless shelter? Aren’t prepared to sell all your possessions and give them to the poor? Maybe consider having a garage sale and donating the proceeds to your church or a community non-profit?
So often, we celebrate the big givers and the big risk-takers – the ones who go way out on a limb and then take a horrifying leap. Yes, God loves those people and he needs them to do some big things. But for those “third servant” types for whom the risk is just too terrifying, he still has a plan for you. He still needs you and wants you to have a role to play in his kingdom.
Don’t bury God’s gold in a field. Invest what he has given you. If you can take a risk, do it. If not, at least find a way to get a return on God’s incredible investment in you.
It takes a lot of power to destroy and then rebuild something. It takes a lot of determination and, ultimately, grace if that “something” is a nation. Like Israel, Egypt was a powerful nation. Unlike Israel, Egypt’s power was completely self-made (God’s hand, of course, was not against Egypt most of the time…and when it was, they were defeated.)
Israel and Egypt were alike in many ways – not the least of which is that they had both experienced God’s immense power in an incredible way, neither had aligned themselves with him. Israel claimed to be God’s chosen people, but they certainly didn’t act like it. Egypt had their own gods, but they walked away from the one God who actually demonstrated to them his power and authority.
It’s as if the lessons of history were totally lost on this generation of Egyptians (and Israelites). But that’s how it happens, isn’t it? For me and those in my generation, we can’t really understand the turmoil of the 1950s and 60s. We don’t really get the whole Vietnam War struggle or the civil rights battle. We have ideas about what it was like, but we didn’t live it.
And so, to us, those feelings, emotions and experiences are muted – still there, but not nearly as vibrant as they were and are for our parents. Another generation removed, my daughter may only really hear about that volatile, but crucial time in our history by reading it in a book or watching some movie about it. For her, there will almost be no experience…just academic study.
And so it was for the Egyptians and the Israelites. They had heard about God’s power, but they hadn’t experienced it. In their heads, they knew what was possible, but they had become convinced that it could never happen to them. They were too far removed from the events of history to actually get a sense of what was going on.
But God told them he wanted to change all that. This generation would have their own encounter with God – his power, his wrath and, yes, his love. God, in a way that only he can do, would destroy people, cities and whole nations, and then rebuild them from the ground up. He would give them the experience they were missing in hopes that such experiences would help to forge them as his people.
Yes, it takes great power to destroy something and rebuild it. It takes great wisdom to know when and how it should be done.
The book of Ecclesiastes is one of the more confusing books in the Bible. Reading it is like being inside of someone’s head – someone who is conflicted about life and is rambling on, at times arguing one position and at times, the opposite position. But the book is actually quite calculated in its approach and in its use of literary devices to draw us in and then bring us around.
You see, that phrase “everything is meaningless under the sun” carries some strong implications. First, the things that we do here on earth are largely inconsequential in the long-run. That’s easy enough to see. But the author also describes some things that will last beyond our death – both good deeds and evil ones – which will be judged by God.
It stands to reason, then, that not everything is meaningless. But the things of eternal significance (the things that aren’t ultimately meaningless) often seem that way to us and those around us (under the sun). And so there’s this juxtaposition of eternally significant acts, which seem meaningless to us and eternally meaningless acts, which seem significant to us. So, not only is everything meaningless, but everything is also significant.
Ecclesiastes, to me, is a book about someone reaching the limits of his wisdom and, perhaps, of human wisdom. He comes to the edge of all attainable wisdom and says, “I can’t make any sense of this.” But isn’t that the point? Isn’t it true that no matter how much wisdom we gain in this life, there are some things that will simply never make sense to us? Sure, we might have faith in some things which help us to tolerate and accept life’s difficulties, but there is a lot that we don’t know empirically – wisdom that is beyond our reach.
And so, as we sit here, “under the sun” in our limited wisdom and with limited perspective, our vision is murky, skewed and sometimes backwards. We place high importance on things of little significance and low importance on things of great significance. We fail to see clearly and fail to follow completely the God who has all wisdom and who sees all things.
When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labor that is done on earth—people getting no sleep day or night— then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it. (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17)
And that’s really the point, isn’t it. No matter how hard we try, we simply can’t comprehend it all. For me, as I have come to that realization over a number of years, it has been incredibly freeing. You see, I always thought that to be a “good Christian” meant that I had to be able to give a solid answer for any question someone could throw at me. Realizing that not only do I not have to have an answer for everything, but that I can’t know the answer to everything allows me the freedom to not know!
There are a lot of things that seem meaningless in this world, but, as the author suggests, few things that we can truly understand. Our comfort is in knowing that God is all-wise – that he knows it all and understands it all. And so, when I see a terminally ill child or someone starving and living in poverty, I don’t know why that is happening. I do know who understands it all and that he’s got a plan in place that is larger than any one individual or their circumstances.
It may not make your situation any more bearable to know that God understands and has a plan, but at least you should take comfort in the fact that, for God, all is not meaningless. In fact, for him, there is meaning and purpose to everything.
I love it! Agur (who sounds like the name of a burly sailor) is incredibly self-aware. From the outset, he admits that he knows where he sits on the “wisdom” spectrum:
Surely I am only a brute, not a man;
I do not have human understanding.
I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One. (Proverbs 30:2-3)
You see, not only does he say that he isn’t as wise as God, he essentially says he’s not as wise as other people. He is a brute, not a man.
I have a real fondness for that kind of self-awareness. In fact, I am convinced that self-awareness is the beginning of wisdom itself. In contrast, some of the most foolish people I have ever encountered were also some of the least self-aware. Knowing your weaknesses and flaws and then being willing to admit them to others gives you opportunities to grow and to learn.
Have you ever known somebody who considered themselves an expert in just about everything? Now, they might not phrase it that way, but that’s how it comes across. Every conversation you have with this person is, for them, an opportunity to tell you how you are wrong or how you could improve on whatever it is you’re doing. They like to point out their experiences and how they’ve done things, seen things, read things or thought things that are superior to the things you’ve done, seen read or thought. They correct whenever they can and exude an air of superiority that is nauseating.
If you know someone like that, you also probably know a few conversation averting tactics (ways to avoid speaking with them). On the other hand, how likeable and disarming is someone who says “I’m just a brute.” For me, one of my guideposts in life is maintain as much self-awareness as possible and to never consider myself an expert in anything. Unfortunately, the moment you start speaking in public or blogging, some people will think you are an expert. Even worse, some people will assume that you think you are an expert.
I am not. I’m a brute. I draw from the wisdom of others and I seek the wisdom of God, but the things I know are just a spec in a universe of things I don’t. Ironically, I can write hundreds of thousands of words about just the stuff I know. Those two facts alone should be enough to keep me humble and in awe of the vast knowledge and wisdom of our God.
What if he were to write a blog about everything he knows? To turn a phrase: All the servers of the earth could not contain it. Stay self-aware. Thanks, Agur!