In the classic satire, Princess Bride, a very young Fred Savage plays a little boy listening to his grandfather tell him a fantastic story with so many twists and turns that Fred interrupts him at one point to exclaim in exasperation, “Gee, Grandpa, what are you telling me this story for?”
So often as I study my Bible, I find myself empathizing with little Fred. I am so engrossed in the action and emotions of the story that I am reading, that I often do a double-take when the narrative shoots off at a wild angle, completely different from anything I might have predicted or expected. In those moments, I find myself asking God, “Why are you telling me this?”
A case in point is the wonderful exposition of the life of King Solomon. David’s son begins with the greatest of intentions. He asks God for the wisdom to properly rule the kingdom of Israel. This wisdom is something much more than being a walking encyclopedia. Instead, the type of wisdom Solomon asks for and receives is the discernment to “read” the world from a holy perspective. It’s the kind of wisdom that allows him to know that the true mother of a child would rather see that baby given away than cut in two. It’s a wisdom that allows Solomon to amass a fortune and demand a level of respect around the world heretofore unknown in the Jewish experience.
And yet, even with all this wisdom going for him, we read that Solomon acted not so wisely as well. He married women, so many women, even those outside his Jewish religion, despite God’s express command against such unions, a command that included the warning in no uncertain terms that such unions would lead to the nation’s downfall. At one point, we are told, Solomon had some 700 wives and 300 concubines! Especially in his old age, these women from foreign lands were easily able to lead Solomon into worship of other gods—gods the scripture defines as detestable to the Lord.
So we come to my why are you telling me this moment involving Solomon. As I read for the umpteenth time this morning the story of Solomon’s lack of judgment which ultimately led to the splitting of the kingdom of Israel and its eventual downfall, a lesson from Solomon’s folly came to me that I had not quite considered before.
My “God messages” and “Holy Spirit lessons” have been coming to me lately involving the themes of grace and becoming. I am saved because I believe in Jesus as my savior. I spend the rest of my grace-covered life becoming what God has pre-determined I need to be for that heavenly home that lasts forever and makes this earthly existence look like the blink of an eye. But, nothing I do in the process of becoming has anything to do with the promise of my salvation. The two processes are locked together and yet intricately separate. And, if I can get this truth clear in my emotional as well as logical response to people and situations, I feel that I will be so much better at loving the world around me instead of judging it.
From Solomon’s folly, I am reminded that no matter how smart I think I am, my brain is an unreliable vessel for my salvation. I cannot stay in relationship of good standing with my Creator unless I go through His son, Jesus, and that process involves my faith, not my wisdom. Despite a mind gifted with discernment known far and wide and across time, Solomon’s choice to move out of relationship with God by turning to other idols cost him dearly.
Even with discerning wisdom, look how quickly Solomon fell into the trap of thinking he could manage his own relationship with God. What other explanation would there be for a man so wise to ignore the clear rules God had laid out for His people? Don’t marry the women who are native to the land you are entering, lest you fall into the trap of worshiping their gods, He told the wandering Israelites as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. Despite being wise, Solomon allowed the temptation of his attraction for these foreign women to over-rule the knowledge he had of God’s law.
This leaning on one’s own understanding by acting outside of the dictates of an omnipotent God is a kind of arrogance in one’s own knowledge that makes me think about the modern world in which we live, where scientists are sure they have explained the unexplainable and intellectuals flick the ashes from their cigarettes and disdain the quaint belief systems they see as naïve at best and evil conservatism at worst.
If we really want to be wise, we would concentrate our whole selves on the goal of loving God and appreciating the close relationship we have with Him because Jesus died on the Cross for us. Anything that gets in the way of that love should be cast to the side so that we do not fall victim, like Solomon, to letting the ways of this world get in the way of our much more important connection to the next.
The “twist” in Solomon’s wisdom story isn’t so much a twist, then, as it is the wisest thing we might learn from a king famous for his mind. Seek discernment on your path toward righteous living, yes, but lean on the grace of Jesus’ gift of salvation if you expect to remain in a right relationship with your Creator, especially throughout a long life full of the pitfalls that can trap a man, or woman, bent on thinking his or her way out of the scrapes that ensue when we start listening to our own hearts instead of the heart of our ever-present and oh-so-loving God.