Monthly Archives: May 2020

“Archimedean Trifles”

In this essay, I want to discuss the idea proposed in a graduate course I once took that the Ancient Greeks, who had the basic intellectual cast necessary for developing higher technology, chose to deliberately restrict technological advance to the realm of defense and war, because they recognized that too much technology would lead to a mechanistic, not a humanistic, mode of living. That is, the Greeks didn’t want a high level of technology because it would have created a kind of “humanity” that for them wasn’t humanity at all.

A key passage that proves this is from Plutarch’s Life of Marcellus. In describing the Roman siege of Syracuse in 212 B.C., Plutarch relates the details of how Archimedes, the famed Greek geometer and inventor, attempted to save the city with technological wizardry:

…The land forces were conducted by Appius: Marcellus with sixty galleys, each with five rows of oars, furnished with all sorts of arms and missiles, and a huge bridge of planks laid upon eight ships chained together, upon which was carried the engine to cast stones and darts, assaulted the walls, relying on the abundance and magnificence of his preparations, and on his own previous glory; all which, however, were, it would seem, but trifles for Archimedes and his machines.

These machines he had designed and contrived, not as matters of any importance, but as mere amusements in geometry; in compliance with King Hiero’s desire and request, some little time before, that he should reduce to practice some part of his admirable speculation in science, and by accommodating the theoretic truth to sensation and ordinary use, bring it more within the appreciation of the people in general.

According to Plutarch, Archimedes was preceded in this activity by Eudoxus and Archytas, who originated “the art of mechanics, which they employed as an elegant illustration of geometrical truths, and as a means of sustaining experimentally, to the satisfaction of the senses, conclusions too intricate for proof by words and diagrams.” Archimedes himself, who was ordinarily too busy with his abstract contemplations of disembodied geometrical formulas, was induced by his patron, King Hiero of Syracuse, to put his math to work in the real world, for the defense of the city. As Plutarch describes it, the results were nothing less than astounding:

When, therefore, the Romans assaulted the walls in two places at once, fear and consternation stupefied the Syracusans, believing that nothing was able to resist that violence and those forces. But when Archimedes began to ply his engines, he at once shot against the land forces all sorts of missile weapons, and immense masses of stone that came down with incredible noise and violence; against which no man could stand; for they knocked down those upon whom they fell in heaps, breaking all their ranks and files. In the meantime, huge poles thrust out from the walls over the ships sunk some by the great weights which they let down from on high upon them; others they lifted up into the air by an iron hand or beak like a crane’s beak and, when they had drawn them up by the prow, and set them on end upon the poop, they plunged them to the bottom of the sea; or else the ships, drawn by engines within, and whirled about, were dashed against steep rocks that stood jutting out under the walls, with great destruction of the soldiers that were aboard them. A ship was frequently lifted up to a great height in the air (a dreadful thing to behold), and was rolled to and fro, and kept swinging, until the mariners were all thrown out, when at length it was dashed against the rocks, or let fall….

Yet, these astounding mechanical contrivances were worth less than nothing to Archimedes himself, who “would not deign to leave behind him any commentary or writing on such subjects; but, repudiating as sordid and ignoble the whole trade of engineering, and every sort of art that lends itself to mere use and profit, he placed his whole affection and ambition in those purer speculations where there can be no reference to the vulgar needs of life…”.

The perspective described here should be of interest to us. A bit earlier in his narrative, Plutarch had mentioned Plato’s “indignation” against the mechanical arts, calling them “the mere corruption and annihilation of the one good of geometry,” namely, contemplation of “the unembodied objects of pure intelligence.” In the basic Platonic view of reality that predominated after Plato himself, we do not need “help” from mere matter to know the truth – indeed, mere matter can often lead us astray from the truth. Hence, to use geometry, or any kind of contemplation of unembodied truth, as an adjunct to the manipulation of physical reality is to fundamentally betray the soul’s quest for true Good. The pursuit of material things gets in the way of the pursuit of unembodied truth, and so it follows by inexorable logic that unrestricted progress in mechanical manipulation (technology) will divert the soul from the Good.

As Christians, we do not denigrate matter in this way, and so we do not want to denigrate per se the scientific enterprise or the technological tools that it produces. But at the same time, we live in a world that, unlike the world Plutarch inhabited, is the product of centuries of systematic inquiry into the physical causes of things. This systematic inquiry has generated enormous progress in terms of our ability to manipulate the conditions of the physical world with our technological devices. For us, technological devices are not “Archimedean Trifles,” but the very warp and woof of our lives.

But, I ask, is our attitude toward technology just the mirror image of the radical denigration of matter and technological progress found in Plutarch’s portrayal of Archimedes? If Plutarch was on one extreme, are we on the other? And if the answer to a question is not one extreme, how could it be the other?

At its root, the question of technology that I am asking in this column concerns its very nature. What kind of thing is technology, and what are (should be) its limits?
In the movie Jurassic Park, Ian Malcolm, a quasi-philosopher of exotic mathematical models of the world, asks of the achievement of cloning dinosaurs, “Just because we can do a thing doesn’t mean we should.” It was perhaps in this connection that the Roman author Ovid makes the interesting point in Book I of his Metamorphoses that the “Golden Age” of man on earth was a time in which, among other things, no ships had been built, allowing men to travel to other lands and start wars with each other. Farming had also not been invented, because the earth brought forth all things naturally. Technology arose in the “Silver Age,” as a result of a change in cosmic governance and accompanying alterations in the operations of the earth. Men were forced to build houses to protect them from the weather, and to invent plows to produce food from the land.

In his Physics, Aristotle makes the remark that “art imitates nature” (194a21). The Greek word for “art” here is techne, from which we get our word “technology.” Later, he draws an analogy between art and nature such that in the same way that nature acts with a goal or purpose (telos) in mind, so too should art. If, he says, a house could have been made by nature, it would have been made in the same way that it now is by human art, and if things actually made by nature could be made by art, they would be made in the same way as nature makes them. The focal point of both nature and art is the goal, and questions about the goal of any activity are essential ones for anyone interested in living rightly.

Interestingly, Aristotle goes on to qualify his earlier remark that “art imitates nature” by saying rather that art can only “partly complete” what nature cannot do herself, and so art only “partly imitates” nature. In his Politics, Aristotle says that “nature makes nothing in vain” (1253a8; 1256b20), and he connects this with man’s endowment by nature with speech, a sense of good and evil, and his desire to be in society, to build cities, with other men.  In other words, technology is a means to an end, simultaneously a natural pursuit of man and a sort of necessary evil that man uses to relieve himself of harsh conditions in the world. Technology is oriented toward “filling the gaps” that nature leaves, so that man can live in nature with fewer troubles than he otherwise would have. Yet, at the same time, technology has brought conflict, as with the fact that the invention of ships let men travel to other lands and begin to covet – and so to fight over – the possessions of others.

Thus, the thing that Archimedes considered mere “trifles” is both a necessary good and a temptation to evil. Platonic idealists may imagine that life can be lived in pure contemplation of abstract truths, decrying the “mechanical arts” which care for the “vulgar needs” of embodied life, but even Archimedes found that the sword can be more persuasive than the pen when a Roman soldier, frustrated with the scientist’s preoccupation with an equation rather than heeding the command to surrender, simply ran him through at Syracuse. Aristotle, who also denigrated manual labor and its products as the work of slaves, was forced to admit that someone has to grow the food that the philosophers eat, make the clothes that they wear, and build the houses that they live in.

But there is something deeper that we ought to consider in this Ancient preference for a contemplative, philosophical life over a life buried in the pursuit of the “mechanical arts” and the “vulgar needs” of the embodied condition. Ancient philosophers may have been extreme in the specific ways they stated their critique, but their goal was not extreme, for it was nothing less than living “the good life,” or, a life of self-governed, responsible, virtuous behavior in community with other human beings. Part of the reason they were against vulgar mechanical standards of living was because they believed that such things dehumanized men and women. By focusing attention on gaining proficiency in things that are worthwhile only with respect to other things (e.g., learning the art of medicine solely to increase lifespan, regardless of the moral quality of the life itself), the “mechanical arts” took away from them the ability and desire to pursue things which are worthwhile in themselves (e.g., Truth, Beauty, and Goodness).

To return to the other side of the inquiry, then: have we, in our comfortable technology-soaked Modern age, just swung the pendulum in the opposite direction from Archimedes? Rather than see technology as “trifles,” do we see it as the only truly substantive thing about our lives? We are, after all, surrounded by blinking, flashing, whirring, artificial gizmos from daybreak to sundown. We can hardly imagine life without electric light switches and outlets on every wall, coffee machines, wristwatches, indoor plumbing, the rapid transit triad of “trains, planes, and automobiles,” and laptop computers (on which, somewhat ironically, I am typing this very essay about the dangers of technology!).

Our lives are regimented by mechanisms: alarm clocks, work schedules based on efficiency and productivity quotas per hour, precisely timed “periods” at school, numerical evaluation systems (grades, polls, units of electricity or natural gas used per month, etc.). In other words, our lives are fundamentally technical and mechanical, and from day to day, unless we are the sorts of people who consciously reflect on things that most people just take for granted, we do not see much wrong with it. I have had people look at me like I had a third eye in the middle of my head merely because I asked whether the phenomenon of a grocery store rigidly tracking the number of items that go into each plastic bag each hour on each register – and then penalizing the cashiers for not meeting a predefined number – is a fundamentally dehumanizing activity.

As a culture we endlessly debate amongst ourselves whether our schools can or ought to teach morality, and its linchpin, religion. As a whole culture, the cultivation of virtue is not very important to us, having been eclipsed by our utter fascination with increasing technological sophistication. Virtue, or morality, is, in fact widely considered to be relative to what makes a given individual “happy” – and no one outside of that individual has any right to question his or her concept of “happiness.”

Happiness, furthermore, is in our culture frequently confused with the mere possession of mass quantities of technological stuff. I recently saw an ad at Wal-Mart for the latest 52” High Definition flatscreen television, which quoted a customer (real or imagined, it does not matter) claiming, “This was such a good price, I bought five of them!” Lost in the glamor and glitz of the bright color ad and the logically fallacious appeal known as “bandwagon” (“everyone is doing it; so should you!”) was, of course, the deeper ethical question of whether anyone truly needs a 52” flatscreen television (regardless of the “always low price”) – let alone needs five of them. And we must not forget, Wal-Mart goes on to tell us, that with that new 52” High Definition flatscreen television, we must also get a new Blu-Ray DVD player and a 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound system (each also “always low price”), so that we can be entertained in style right in our own living rooms. We deserve it, after all.

To contemplate such examples as these and still claim that technology is morally neutral is, I think, to miss the forest of transcendent ethical truth for the trees of individual behavior. It is true enough that the greed expressed in “This was such a good price that I bought five of them!” originates in an individual’s warped heart, not with the mere existence of a 52” High Definition flatscreen television. Evil is not in the stuff, but in our hearts – which is why the Archimedean solution of simply debasing the “vulgarity” of embodied life in favor of abstract speculation is no answer, but another side of the same problem.

Nevertheless, to remain on the level of evaluation that says “technology is not evil, people are evil,” is to fail to ask larger questions such as how the existence of this whole massive interlocked complex of entertainment technology facilitates the expression of, not the repression of, the twisted desires of our hearts. If it was not televisions, our greed would focus on something else, this is true. But the specific manner in which the televisions encourage our greed is very much a question worth asking. The technological things with which we are obsessed are not at all “Archimedean trifles.”

We must learn to ask the deeper questions if we are to be wise and culturally virtuous Christians.

Is Western Culture *Worse* Than Sodom or Nineveh?

It’s becoming increasingly popular in these days of seemingly triumphant secularism for Christians to speak of the “sad decline” of Western culture. I resonate with this idea a good bit, and not least because there’s plenty of reason within the Western tradition itself to see temporal matters often going downhill – sometimes drastically. Nevertheless, when I read the individual’s concluding thought, which was that we need to “dust off” our Old Testaments and become re-familar with “remnant theology,” a light went off in my head – a light I would not have expected to go off in my (pessimistic) head.

As a Humanities teacher, the Old Testament tends to be much in my thoughts, for Scripture is one of the three pillars of the West (the other two being Greece and Rome). To be sure, the Old Testament witness of God’s people is dreary, and can easily underwrite a Christian notion of cultural pessimism. As a general rule, I don’t think it’s healthy for Christians to get so wrapped up in the goods of temporal life that we start thinking and acting, even perhaps unconsciously, in line with the maxim, “Things are getting better all the time.” Because, unless one confines oneself to a very narrow subset of criteria, say, ones chiefly focused on how our gizmos keep advancing at warp speed and making our material lives ever cheaper to maintain than our spiritual lives, NO, they really and truly AREN’T.

Still, not even the Old Testament is entirely pessimistic. After all, God is the God who told Abraham that He would spare the horrifically wicked city of Sodom if only ten righteous people were found in it, and He’s the God who spared the horrifically wicked city of Nineveh, because there were 120,000 people within it who could not tell the difference between their right hand and their left – plus the livestock. There’s room even in the Old Testament for some real hope that things might get better.

After all, “If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and  seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14). If God would have done it for a people as evil as Israel and Judah, He surely may yet do it for us.

So what about the common Christian practice – which I myself have been known to do more than a little bit! – of sitting around lamenting the loss of Christendom, and well, even the loss of just basic “Western culture” in our time? Woe is us, for we are sadly declining and there is no health in our bones! Surely God cannot put up with our manifold sins and wickednesses for much longer, but must hasten us into the trash-heap of history! What can we poor, besieged Christians do but pray for strength to avoid falling along with everything else?!

If the problem with an ever-cheerful cultural optimism is that it presumes on God’s providence, assuming that the entrance into the world of the Gospel necessitates an ever-upward path of temporal and material benefits, the problem with an ever-despairing cultural pessimism is that God isn’t obligated to underwrite a despairing, prophetic-rock-throwing, Gospel-thundering remnant and destroy the rest every time things in the world get really bad. As Augustine pointed out so long ago in the City of God, nobody knows the secrets of providence. God raises up kings and God deposes kings (Dan. 2:21), and all without consulting us or even remotely caring about our limited, and usually quite foolish, perspectives on the ephemeral events of our terribly momentary little lives.

Moreover, from the standpoint of what we can, as humans, actually know, we are explicitly told in Deuteronomy 29:29 that the only things that belong to us are the things that have been revealed – the secret things belong to God. Last time I checked, there is nowhere in Scripture that says Western culture will fall in the 21st century, leaving only a pathetic little remnant of faithful people to say “See, I told you so! At least we kept preaching the Gospel and doing apologetics while the house burned down around us!”

And at any rate, as Peter Leithart has sagely pointed out in his commentary on 1 and 2 Kings, the Old Testament teaching of the remnant does not typically refer to a small band of believers who survive a judgment of God because they stayed firm to the end. Rather, it refers to a mixed remnant, a remnant of believers and unbelievers, who, by God’s providential selection alone, survive a judgment of God.

So yes, let’s dust off those Old Testaments and, while taking care not to fly into the Cloud Cuckoo Land of over-realized eschatological triumph, at the same time realize that we are not the ones who have declared the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), and it is not our will for our culture that will be done. Perhaps we ought all to more seriously consider the words of Jonah 4:2, which, despite being uttered by a prophet who was angry that his gloom-and-doom expectations had not come to pass, “Ah Lord…You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.” This God who saved Nineveh is, someone else subsequently pointed out to me, the very same God who knew that ultimately Nineveh would apostatize again and would have to be destroyed. Thus, indeed, we have reason to hope, even in the midst of what really does, to all our senses, appear to be little more than a long, drawn out, sad decline.

The Beginning of Wisdom (4): Provisional Conclusions

Last time we were looking at Job’s experience of finding wisdom. At the risk of being repetitious, let me say that as wisdom-seekers ourselves, we must realize that it takes Job a great deal of time and painstaking (not to mention painful) thinking to arrive at the insight that we human beings do not even know where wisdom is.

From the moment he begins his self-defense in Chapter 3, Job assumes continually that he knows what is going on, and that God owes him an explanation. Throughout the discussions with his friends, Job puts the very concept of human wisdom itself on trial. Like Socrates, he wants to be instructed by someone who knows better than himself (6:24). He admits that human concepts of justice cannot contain the Almighty, rendering the human complaint against God nonsensical (9:3, 12-15).

But as his friends’ counsel makes him further despair, Job at last assaults the very legitimacy of human wisdom. On the one hand, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days” (12:12). This would seem to encompass both Job and his three friends, who are older men with much life experience. Yet on the other hand, neither his own nor his friends’ speeches make sense of his suffering, so it seems that “[God] takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth and makes them wander in a pathless waste” (12:24).

Some chapters later we read, starkly, that wisdom “is not found in the land of the living” (28:13), but “is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air” (28:21). And at the last, after God recites for four chapters the plethora of things Job does not know about the world, Job confesses his ignorance: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things to wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:3), and repents in dust and ashes.

What the book of Job shows us about wisdom exhibits not the kind of “simplicity” that uncareful readers who assume a “literal” or “face value” meaning of a text that is easily grasped, but rather a weighty sophistication. The text leads us step-by-painful step to realize that we must not merely read it in some pious “devotional” manner, but go through the quiet, sober, length of time it takes to contemplate it – perhaps going through much misunderstanding, as did Job himself, before we grasp its meaning and find wisdom.

The idea throughout Job is plainly that wisdom for us begins with profound humility in the face of that which we cannot understand and cannot acquire on our own.

Let’s return to where we started, the biblical fact that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” What may we glean from this too short survey? The quality that functions as the gateway to wisdom, “the fear of the Lord,” shows itself in such attitudes as self-abasement in the face of those specially gifted by God with discernment, humility enough to set aside our own claims to knowledge and learn from others, and, maybe most importantly, abjectly refusing to say that we even know where wisdom is (let alone that we have found it), and, each and every day living coram Deo – before the face of God Himself who dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16) but who has, in His gracious condescension to us, united us with Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col.2:3).

The Beginning of Wisdom (3): Knowing that You DON’T Know

Winding down this short series on the beginning of wisdom, I want to reflect for a few minutes on the lessons of the Book of Job.

Sometimes Scripture illustrates wisdom with what has been described as an “act-consequence” dynamic. Two prominent examples are:

He who gathers crops in summer is a prudent son,
    but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful so
n. – Proverbs 10:5

The wealth of the rich is their fortified city,
    but poverty is the ruin of the poor.
– Proverbs 10:15

Simple pairings like these, drawn originally, no doubt, from close observation of the norms and happenings in agrarian life, seem to indicate that the theory and practice of wisdom is relatively uncomplicated, perhaps even a matter only of “common sense.” And in truth, sometimes it is precisely this way. In many aspects of life, there is a “givenness” to the world as God made it and as we encounter it, an observable and knowable “way things are” that only the dullest of the dull – or else the willfullest of the willful! – can fail to see. Yet to realize the scope of wisdom, and far we all always have to go in our search for it, we must probe deeper in light of the whole of Israel’s story.

The conflict of the book of Job reveals a complex picture of the relationship of divine providence and human suffering. We should attentively note that the pattern of act-consequence does not play out in Job’s life: his suffering has nothing to do with the way he has lived, and none of the traditional and “common sense” explanations for his suffering given by his friends turns out to be correct.

Consider Job’s initial assessment of his trials, “Shall we accept good from God and shall not we receive evil?” (2:10), about which we read “Job did not sin with his lips.” At first glance, we may think it proper to derive from this the idea that we may not question God’s sovereign decisions, but must merely submit so as to avoid sinning by impious speech. There follows on this declaration thirty-six chapters of eloquent speeches, attempting to theologically explain what has happened to Job. But at the end, both Job and his friends are forced to realize that all their “wisdom” is actually foolishness, for only God has wisdom and only God actually knows where it is.

Attend to the different ways God deals with Job and Job’s friends. Job gets a four chapter recitation of seemingly endless items about the world that he does not know and cannot explain, after which he confesses, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things to wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:3), and, despising himself, repents in dust and ashes. Job’s friends, however, hear God say to them, “…you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:10).

We should ask: what did Job speak about God that was right? What did his friends speak about God that was wrong? The difference between them is that whereas both Job and his friends entered into lengthy theological explanations of Job’s sufferings and God’s purposes, only Job at last came to realize that for all his supposed “learning,” he was profoundly ignorant and could not give an explanation.

There’s just something about having wisdom that makes one want, seemingly bizarrely, to say, “Actually, I don’t have any wisdom, but I’m really busy looking for it!” In the final installment of this series, I’ll draw these threads together.

The Beginning of Wisdom (2): “Simplicity” vs. Humility

Last time we looked at the definition of the fear of the Lord as presented in Proverbs 1 and saw that there it involves attending carefully to Solomon’s words. It’s my belief that we, in an age of universal literacy and a mode of education that has convinced us all really important things should be “simple” to grasp, should take care not to imagine that just “simply” reading the words of Solomon in English automatically grants us the sort of understanding Solomon himself was directly given by God.

Wisdom is not the sort of thing that we get off the retail shelf, neatly packaged to aggrandize our preferences and agitate our itch to impulse-acquire. Unless God grants wisdom to us directly, as He did Solomon, we’re going to have to invest a good bit more effort in getting hold of it than we may at first find comfortable.

Ancient Wisdom Literature, a genre of which portions of Scripture are a substantial part, possesses the paradoxical feature of sometimes being really super-simple to understand (“Look at the ant, sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise!”, Prov. 6:6), and other times being maddeningly complex (“Answer a fool according to his folly…do not answer a fool according to his folly…,” Prov. 26:4-5).

So, moving on, we read in Proverbs 9:1-9 that a characteristic of wisdom is that it is the opposite of simplicity and having no sense. Now simple, a word we Moderns frequently use in our impatience to have “just the facts” so we can use them to “get things done,” was just two chapters earlier (7:6-27) represented as just the kind of thing that the adulteress uses to snare the unwary young man.

Now this is interesting. Chapter 9 goes on to state that it is those who are already wise who will, perhaps paradoxically, be very willing to receive rebuke and additional instruction so that they can add to their wisdom. It seems, then, that wisdom is not the sort of thing that one obtains immediately (say, just by reading something and concluding it is “simple” to understand), but rather, a thing that, if one actually has it, is pretty self-effacing.

As attentive readers, we should notice that it is only after speaking of the wise person as someone who receives rebuke in order to add to his wisdom that we see again a reference to “the fear of the Lord.” This quality, said to be the beginning of wisdom, stands thus clearly connected not with a self-aggrandizing belief that oneself either already has wisdom or else that it is really quite simple to get hold of. Rather, we see here that wisdom is a quality that involves a fair bit of sophistication, having sense, and being open to correction.

In a word, getting wisdom requires humility, and so if we refuse to be humble, we dare not imagine that we have or even can get wisdom.

The Beginning of Wisdom (1): The Fear of the Lord

Today I want to take a brief look at the quality we see held up in multiple places as the beginning of wisdom, “the fear of the Lord” (Prov. 1:7; Prov. 9:10; Job 28:28; Ps. 111:10).

If we want to know what wisdom is, and Scripture repeatedly says it begins with this single quality, the fear of the Lord, we should try to determine what that quality involves. It’s easy, I think, for any of us to assume we’re most of the time going to pretty easily know what the Bible means since we’re reading it in English and it was written to be understood. But the Bible shares one feature with all ancient literature, and it’s that it has to be read carefully and reflectively, not least because it does not always convey its meaning immediately and without much interpretive effort. This is especially true of Wisdom Literature.

Interestingly, in the passages noted above, the precise meaning of the phrase the fear of the Lord is not given – meaning that Scripture expects us either to already know or to be prepared to go searching for it. As I hope to show in this series of posts, a key tenet of a wisdom-seeker is not assuming he or she already knows and so doesn’t need to go looking. Myself, I think if we go looking for the meaning of the phrase, closely attending to words and phrases and other contextual clues, we will find it.

For instance, the first 6 verses of Proverbs 1 describe the wisdom of Solomon, a man especially illumined by the Lord so that he was the wisest man who ever lived or ever would live (I Kings 3:12). Following this list of how Solomon’s wisdom might affect one’s life, we read about “the fear of the Lord.” It seems to be a summary of the attitude we should have as we read Solomon’s words, illumined as they are by God. By heeding Solomon’s words, we fear the Lord who gave Solomon surpassing wisdom – and this is the beginning of wisdom for us.

But let’s not stop with this seeming straightforward exhortation: heed Solomon’s words. A wisdom-seeker who is not granted, as Solomon was, direct insight by the Lord, but who is instead told to pay attention to Solomon’s words, will take that to heart and begin attentively contemplating Solomon’s words. In the next few posts, I will try to show what that looks like.