I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me. There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siegeworks against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his works are no longer heeded. Ecclesiastes 9:13-16.
I kind of wish Solomon would’ve described what the poor man’s solution was to save the city. But I guess it doesn’t matter really because the method isn’t the issue rather it’s the fact of using wisdom over strength.
The saddest part of this story is really the fact that wisdom doesn’t pay dividends in cash payouts but only in the form of saving lives, righting wrongs, creating peace (where fools don’t rule the outcome), and generally making life more livable. Everyone needs—not just wants—affirmation and some form of praise for their efforts. If that poor man was really wise, he would have realized, however, that the fools in charge would forget quite quickly that he came up with the solution. His wisdom would have insured a sense of equanimity and contentment concerning his own part in the situation. Yet even with this assurance in his heart I’m sure he would have appreciated some sort of acknowledgement for his efforts.
God made sure the poor man was legitimized and secured in the annals of history by putting him into a book. Now that’s a legacy.
The more I adhere to wisdom, the quieter I become. This may not be the same outcome for everyone, so don’t even go there. Some people in the course of learning wisdom must become more vocal because they remain silent when they should speak. I have the opposite problem—I speak whether I should or not. As it stands right now, writing these devotionals online for public consumption and being on Facebook, of all things, have made me realize and recognize the futility of argument and persuasion where it is not desired, ignored or simply misunderstood by default. Facebook, particularly, has taught me what my various subcultures will put up with from me. I mean to say that my ability to talk about any subject has gotten me into trouble several times. So I have done and said things which were totally or marginally out of line for the general public.
Oddly enough (to me, maybe not to you), few people see the oxymoron at work in the judgments passed. Almost all the “oddities” of others are judged so through the lens of cultural understanding and not a real sense of morals which protect society. No where is this seen most clearly than the Victorian attitudes about sex and violence. The American attitude towards violence is rather blasé whereas their general outlook about sex is embarrassment. It’s changing somewhat but still there. We accept extremely violent movies in the name of entertainment but object to anything remotely sexual.
There are plenty of other places where conventional wisdom uses a lack of follow through in the logic. For instance: Racial and gender equality. Most people, except for the fringe detractors, believe in equality for all races and genders. Yet the disparity in pay, treatment in the work place, and general power of those not of the white male persuasion still undermines the advertisements.
We have all heard the term “conventional wisdom” used in one context or another, for most of our lives run by it. This is to say, someone or a group of someone-s develop a method of living or convenience in travel, eating, etc. and it becomes the norm for a short period of human history. For instance cell phones and the like are so pervasive today my son uses my old iPhone 3GS as his iPod (I call it an iPhod since it’s a phone without service). I know, I know, starving kids in India or wherever need food, I get it, but the norm in America and most rich countries is stuff coming out our ears. Ten years ago laptops were a rarity now they are the norm; 20 years ago the internet was just a novelty now it’s the norm. I have a Fred Meyer (grocery store) less than a mile from my house but I drive there instead of walk because carrying all those bags (I’m a bachelor so it’s usually only 4) is tiring. I do it but only if I’m in the mood. My son complains if he has to come with me because he’s not used to walking anywhere much—except may be the playground.
Conventional wisdom works like this. That king who came against the small city brought conventional war instruments to his cause as well as a superior army to get the job done efficiently. With all his might and tools of the trade he lost the war to a poor man with wisdom and no reputation for war at all.
I live in a country with some of the best educational institutions available. That said, I also notice education hasn’t led to any real genuine wisdom or good judgment on the part of the parties involved. Those in government make great efforts to pass laws about the specific worldview their constituents support—or, pretend to support. Nothing really gets done except a stalemate and lots of money being spent on going nowhere. I haven’t seen a noticeable difference between the morals of the rich and educated versus the poor and deprived except in access to power over the outcome of certain things. Politicians, educators, and businessmen—all highly educated by the agreed common standards of such things—continue to demonstrate a lack of good judgment in their pursuits and lifestyles. I don’t see very many examples of good living or secure lifestyles among the rich and famous.
My point here is more about what reality is versus what everyone around me strives so hard to make it appear to be. I’m not impressed with my current subculture of Christians in general because I see them making complete asses of themselves by declaring what God will and won’t allow. Then later watching reality blow the prediction into shards. All the while those who made such foolish assertions scramble to protect their system of belief by throwing up excuses for their own failure and denying their declarations as being stupid.
The poor man in Solomon’s story made no declarations of intent or otherwise, he simply saved the city from a much more powerful source of destruction and then moved on. Unfortunately, according to Solomon, no one really respected his wisdom for whatever reason people don’t recognize such things—and I can name a few. Poverty is looked on today as either a lack of ambition (laziness) or the result of calamity or, if you’re of a religious persuasion, punishment by God or a god. None of the explanations are the whole truth. Oppression primarily comes from the rich and powerful not the poor, though even in a sty a person may find ways to oppress and dominate others. Okay, there is a form of social oppression everywhere but I’m not speaking to that problem just yet. Those who gain power come to see their position as warranted and deserved rather than possibly the luck of the draw. In other words, Apple succeeded as a PC while Atari got relegated to a game computer. What’s funny about this is that Apple and IBM denounced Atari in the early days as just a gaming computer, which is bad logic in the programming world since gaming takes more powerful computing than accounting or anything else. The oxymoron of the logic here is that it isn’t the talented who win the day but the ebb and flow of human consumption, or their willingness to be led one way or the other.
The conservative base of the Christian religious institutions teaches a specific decorum within and without the confines of the church. While minor details such as dress standards, etc., vary the nuts and bolts don’t. Beer is still a marginal sin (though most will hesitate to take it that far), smoking is in the same boat, revealing clothing is much worse, and we could go on but I won’t. Then we read about Jesus who said, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” Matthew 11:19. The verse before that has Him using John the Baptist’s asceticism as an example of how the conventional religious wisdom of the day rejected him.
No matter how we slice it the keepers of the conventional will always complain. Jesus was right (duh!) when He said, “ ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.’ ” Like children in the marketplace of His day those in control of the human behavior monitor will continuously demand we dance to the tune of whatever they have in mind. Meanwhile true wisdom is disregarded—dare I say despised?—while fools (Ecclesiastes uses the term to mean someone silly or stupid) keep pressing their agenda into the public square, demanding we all look and adhere to it.
Jesus didn’t come to conquer the nations by conventional wisdom. Nowhere in Scripture were we commanded to right all the world’s wrongs. Jesus didn’t fight the traditions of His day unless they went completely counter to Scripture. He also didn’t bother with changing the culture of the day by demanding the written and unwritten rules be changed, instead He influenced those around Him. Paul declares that the weapons of our warfare are not the conventional weapons of this world but spiritually discerned (2 Corinthians 10:4). May be this is why so many religious people who get into politics declare war on all other religions, cultures and lifestyles—they don’t understand the wisdom which comes down from heaven.
James 3:17, 18 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
Strange, everything the Christian Right desires is found in this one passage about heavenly wisdom. Weird, there isn’t any mention of passing laws or going to war or threatening people with hellfire to persuade them. How we solve problems in the world is wholly different than the world’s methods; how we approach changing hearts and minds is completely foreign to our education—culturally not schooling.
Jesus calls us to be peace-makers, heavenly wisdom is peace-loving. Jesus calls us to consider others as important as ourselves; heavenly wisdom is considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. See the contrast? The methods are diametrically opposed to one another. I think Solomon’s surprise at the way the poor wise man won stems from his understanding of how successful wars are waged. The poor man’s method did not use conventional wisdom. Neither do we.