TO BE A FOOL IN ORDER TO BE WISE
1 Kings 2 & 3, Psalm 111, 1 Cor 3:18-23
August 20, 2000 by Tad Mitsui
Many family owned businesses fall apart when the founders pass on and the kids take over. The Eaton”s department store chain is a good example. Who would have imagined that the Eaton”s, a Canadian icon, would go bankrupt after Timothy Eaton”s kids took over. The story of King Solomon teaches us about the limitation of a person, who may be very gifted and wise and is successful.
King Solomon was the most successful king of all times, not only in the history of the Hebrew nation but also in the stories of kings everywhere. Under his reign, Israel became a powerful country extending its borders from the present day Israel to Jordan, to Lebanon and to Syria, and even to Egypt. The country became very wealthy. Solomon was successful economically, militarily, politically. He was said to have married hundreds of wives and had an equal numbers of concubines, which was a sign of a successful man in those days. But most importantly, he was known for his wisdom. As you have heard from today”s lesson, when he became a king, he first asked God for wisdom and nothing else. For this, God was very pleased. He was not only a successful king, but he was also a wise king, as the episode in today”s lesson shows.
In fact, many of "Wisdom Literature" in the Bible are said to have been written by King Solomon. They are the Ecclesiastes, the Proverbs, the Song of Songs, and some Psalms. My favourite is from the Ecclesiastes; "For everything, there is a season. A time for every matter under the heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to love and a time to hate. Etc." Some of them are humorous. For example in Proverbs he says, "If you are wise, you will keep your mouth shut." Or, "To live with someone who talks all the time is worse than living in hell." Some are full of humanity. The Song of Songs is the loveliest of all love songs. The fact that such a love song is in the Bible is an affirmation of human sexuality.
However, what is most interesting is the fact that King Solomon himself ended up very frustrated after all those achievements and successes – he was most sceptical about his achievements. Furthermore, just like Timothy Eaton, he did not succeed in creating an enduring kingdom: in fact his kingdom crumbled immediately after he died, and split up into two countries causing the eventual demise of the Jewish nation. Because he was extremely wise, he was able to realize how limited human enterprises were. The Ecclesiastes, which I believe to be the best writings of King Solomon, is the most pessimistic book in the Bible. In it, he expressed his disappointments in life. In chapter one, he said, "Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. – It is useless, useless. Life is useless, all is useless. You spend your life working hard, labouring, and what do you have to show for it? Generations come and generations go, but the world stays just the same. What”s the use?" Why did such a successful man, like Solomon, end up so disappointed.
A Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy made the same point in a story. There was a man who was given all the land he wanted if he could go around it on foot in a day. So, one day at dawn, he started to run. At one point, of course, he could not go on any more because he was absolutely exhausted. But with determination he staggered on. As the Sun was setting in the West, he was crawling but still trying to grab more land. He did make it back to the place where he started out when the Sun disappeared. But he was completely exhausted, in fact he died a moment after the Sunset. At the end, all the land he acquired for free was a piece of land with a size of 3 by 6 feet, where a hole was dug to bury his body. Now then, the question is: are Tolstoy and Solomon saying that all we do in this life is in vain therefore useless, because we die anyway? Is what we do is so useless that we should do nothing?
Some people believe that. They think that the best way is to get away from the world and spend the rest of your life in meditation. I firmly reject this view. I don”t think that King Solomon was saying that. For one thing, he tried his darnest to be a good king, for people and for the country. And he was a good king and a wise one, too. His country benefitted from his wisdom and achievements. This is why he is fondly remembered even today. But because he tried his best, he got to know that human endeavour alone had limitations. He found that his achievements fell far short of the goal. In fact without God, he found them useless. He felt the need of something more, to make life worthwhile. Solomon in the Ecclesiastes, said at the end, "Remember your creator in the days of your youth.", as though to say, "whatever you do, you do it with God in mind." He also said, "The ultimate way to become wise is to honour God."
Albert Einstein, who was considered to be the best scientist of the 20th Century. He said, "Science without religion is blind and dangerous. Religion without science is crazy." Science is one of the most important human enterprises. And the best scientist we have ever known in the last century believed that human endeavour was dangerous without God. And only lazy people, who don”t believe in science turn their religions into superstitions.
Of course, the first article of faith in the Christian teaching is "God is love." Therefore to honour God is to love. This is why Paul in his letter to the Corinthians said, "You may have to be a fool in the eyes of humans in order to be wise in the eyes of God." He said it because the way of love may seem foolish if you don”t know God. If you don”t believe that ultimately the wisdom of God is love, you will have no choice but to see Jesus Christ as the most foolish person ever lived on the earth. It is because he died for others for love. But for those who believe in the love of God, Christ showed us the true way – indeed the way of wisdom of God. Thanks be to God.