Category Archives: Wisdom

Rawls Forgot To Include Economic Cause-and-Effect Rationality

john rawlsIn 1971 John Rawls published “A Theory of Justice,” the most significant articulation and defense of political liberalism of the 20th century. Rawls proposed that the structure of a just society was the one that a group of rational actors would come up with if they were operating behind a “veil of ignorance” — that is, provided they had no prior knowledge what their gender, age, wealth, talents, ethnicity and education would be in the imagined society. Since no one would know in advance where in society they would end up, rational agents would select a society in which everyone was guaranteed basic rights, including equality of opportunity. Since genuine (rather than “on paper”) equality of opportunity requires substantial access to resources — shelter, medical care, education — Rawls’s rational actors would also make their society a redistributive one, ensuring a decent standard of life for everyone.

via Questions for Free-Market Moralists –

So if this is the right way to determine how a society can be a just society, how would a rational agent in Rawls’ book differ from a wise agent in the book of Proverbs?

Here is the problem:

In Rawls’ view, society is “just there” and its resources and wealth fall from the sky. They aren’t produced. It didn’t require hard work by motivated people to make those resources available They don’t run out. They don’t need to be conserved. There is simply an eternal unchanging mass of wealth that needs to be minimally distributed.

But Rawls is being irrational to believe this. If he were rational he would realize that wealth gets created and conserved. People act with greater or lesser efficiency.

If he had any Biblical perspective he would know that peoples and nations rise and fall according to the aggregate decisions the people make.

Rawls was only really asking what about people who know they are joining a society that has reached the point like the one in which he was writing. And he was further assuming that resources would not get used up by the society that he was advocating.

American wealth did not just happen. It got created by people who had none of the so-called “rights” that he advocated. They had to provide for themselves.

And American wealth did not increase under the application of Rawls’ vision. It has been dissipating. People get a “right” to a shrinking pie.

So if you are lucky enough to hit the welfare-state jackpot when it is first flush with cash, you will be happy with Rawlsian rationality. But if you come to it later, you will find a different situation.

If you include ignorance of when the rational agents will join this society, then they are going to want a market driven, free society so that, even if they don’t have equal access to resources, they still have a growing standard of living.

Why Hating Government Keeps It In Power – Kuyperian Commentary

“In any successful attack on freedom the state can only be an accomplice. The chief culprit is the citizen who forgets his duty, wastes away his strength in the sleep of sin and sensual pleasure, and so loses the power of his own initiative.” –Abraham Kuyper

Let us imagine that there is a nation somewhere that is ruled by a wicked government. Let us further imagine that God doesn’t like the nation’s current regime and is looking for a way to change it.

You’re thinking, “But God is omnipotent so he doesn’t ‘look for a way.’”

Right, but I’m speaking of God’s actions within certain God-ordained constraints. God said he would not destroy Sodom for the sake of ten righteous persons (Genesis 19). So we can say, without denying God’s omnipotence that he was looked for an excuse to save Sodom and didn’t find it.

But what would be the God-ordained constraint that would make Him “look for a way” to replace a wicked government with another.

READ THE REST: Why Hating Government Keeps It In Power – Kuyperian Commentary.

I took most of the material from an earlier post on this blog:

Why Rebellions Don’t Work (Especially When They Succeed)

A Life of Plunder: The First Temptation of Foolishness – Kuyperian Commentary

Proverb begins with a promise of and a praise of the value of wisdom. Verse 7 warns that fools despise it and/or being instructed in it.

But the first warning Proverbs gives of a specific sin seemed, at first, counter-intuitive to me…

Read the rest: A Life of Plunder: The First Temptation of Foolishness – Kuyperian Commentary.

Suffering evil trains you to discern between good and evil

In Hebrews 5.14, we read: “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

Discernment sounds like a valuable ability. So what does it take? How does one get trained?

We are given the answer throughout the book, but the most close connection is made in Hebrews 12.11, which is the only other place in the book that word is used:

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:7-11 ESV).

Hebrews tells us Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” It seems he learned discernment as well.

When babies have authority

If you put together everything that Paul says about the characteristics of children and the need to grow up, I think we can glean the following:

  • Children need to be under authority, rather than be given authority.
  • Children who are given freedom/authority are prone to be exploited by bad teachers and leaders.
  • Children who want to stay that way have a tendency to resent and persecute those who are growing up.
  • Adults should grow up but there is a temptation to attempt to remain a child; and many succumb to it.
  • Remaining a child is really not an option; one can only choose between growing up and becoming warped beyond human recognition.

This last is in our fairy tales. Think Pinocchio’s choice to either become a real son or else turn into a donkey.

One might profitably meditate what might happen to an institution–whether a business, a nation, a world order, or a denomination in the Church–that came under the control of people who did not grow up.

Four reasons to memorize Proverbs

Credentials to speak on the subject:

Until recently, I worked as a truck driver. Not really. I was a sanitation engineer. Not really. I was a portapottie guy.

But it involved driving a truck at about forty minutes at a time. And it had a CD player.

Using CD burning tech on my computer, I went into the truck with Proverbs 10, then 11, and 12. I memorized all three chapters so I could say it all in order from start to finish.

I haven’t retained a lot of it. I need to get it loaded on an iPod and spend some time practicing, again, or else start getting disciplined about flash cards or something. If you don’t use it you lose it.

But for awhile I had it and did use it, and these are some of the things I can say from that experience.

1. Proverbs is God’s Catechism; it is meant to be memorized

OK, This is more the reason I began memorizing Proverbs than something I learned… except I can say I am more convinced that Proverbs was meant for this now, than when I started.

Think of the things that we consider to be ideal catechisms for the Church. I don’t doubt that teaching Christian doctrine, and even giving exact words for Christians to use, is a good idea. But we have to admit that God could have had Paul or someone write such a thing. Instead he had Solomon and others give us Proverbs.

2. God tells us to teach our children “when you are going out.”

So here’s the thing. I can’t grab a pocket Bible, or my Kindle, and look up a verse while I am driving. But I have a captive audience and memorizing Proverbs gave me a chance to exploit the situation.

Many times I hid what I was doing. I’d throw one of the kids a Bible and say, “Can you see how I’m doing?” and let them read and make sure I was reciting everything word-perfect…. and often that worked. (Note: in my experience, the younger you start this, the more productive it will be.)

But if you want a chance to discuss with your teen sons the basic alternative between plunder and production, and the habits that are demanded by making the right choice, Solomon will provide plenty of help.

In any case, my 8-year-old got credit for her school’s public speaking competition for reciting Proverbs 10.1-8. (She would have done more, except for the time limit.) One other advantage about memorizing the Proverbs is that, not only can you repeat them to your children, and talk about them, but you can also be their means of memorizing them for themselves.

3. The only way to map some mazes is to meander through them.

There are many books in the Bible in which a scholar is able to know the general story and look at the text on the page and pick out details that help him make an outline or see and order that wasn’t obvious at first.

In most respects, Proverbs is not one of those books. It seems jumbled, too repetitive, and at times given to insultingly-obvious tautologies. You have a hard time convincing yourself that someone was grabbing from a pile of notes and writing sayings down randomly.

But when you start to actually memorize, the “shape” of Proverbs seems a lot more coherent. I would never have seen this chiasm if I hadn’t been memorizing, to name a small example.

(In fact, the majority of what I wrote in this category comes from the time I was memorizing Proverbs.)

I’m not sure how to demonstrate or explain what I want to say here, so I’ll resort to an analogy. Most times you get directions you don’t have to keep track of that much. You learn to look for a couple of intersections and which way you should turn; that is all you need.

Proverbs is more like a thick forest. There doesn’t seem to be any trail through it. But once you actually start exploring, you begin to pick out landmarks. It becomes familiar. Even though you couldn’t give directions or draw a map that would work with a novice, you find you could easily lead them through it.

One way this pays off is with reading the portions of Proverbs I had not yet memorized. It became easier to comprehend. I wasn’t haunted by the vague sense that I had read that same sentence somewhere else in the book; I knew exactly where I had run into it. The entire book began to seem more familiar even though I had only “taken possession” of three chapters.

4. Your “New Testament” will suddenly double in size.

The Gospels and Letters to the Church after Christ are filled with appeals/allusions to the Proverbs. It is amazing. Without Proverbs I’m not sure what ethics would be left. You feel like every single book in the “New Testament” doubles as a commentary on Solomon.

The Greater Miracle

Situation seems hopeless. Needs are overwhelming.

Why doesn’t God act? Why doesn’t he change everything around?

But he doesn’t. And when we think about this, it is all over the Bible. God knocks down the walls of Jericho, but then there are plenty of other battles that are won or lost on strategy and numbers. Jesus calms the storm for his disciples, but makes Peter suffer through one to the point of swimming for his life. The disciples are miraculously rescued from prison but only after they have been captured and beaten.

God’s power and glory is displayed in amazing and impossible deliverances. If that was all that mattered to Him, perhaps we would see more of them.

But what if God is concerned with our glory? What if he wants us to do amazing things? What if his ultimate miracle is the way he changes  us by Christ and the Spirit to do works beyond our imagining? And what if the greater “miracle” is that these things are accomplished by “natural” means–us.

And these things, seemingly impossible, would be nauseating to contemplate. We would never do them were we not confronted with impossible situations for which we pray for deliverance. And then pass through them and find the deliverance arrives in doing so…

We pray for God to do great things and yet perhaps his greater miracle is to lead us to do great things.

7 things wrong with trying to fix education to restore the American Dream

Listening to NPR on the way to work a few days ago, I heard yet another flawed story on education. A young guy made it out of the South Bronx and is now working on a higher level education degree in Ivy League Successville. But the fact that he is so rare might be evidence of a widespread problem rather than proof that “the American Dream” is alive.

What to say?

1. “The American Dream is a sales slogan designed to make people think that going into debt is ethical and responsible behavior. It is the mother of all entitlement mentalities.

2. Why do I never find people wringing their hands over all the young people stuck in small town America, who never go anywhere beyond cashiering at a nearby highway convenience store? Why do only people in N.Y., L.A., or Chicago get the attention?

3. What would happen if everyone did “get an education”? Suddenly an education would be worth a lot less and all the talking heads would start claiming that everyone needs a doctorate. Journalists and pundits would wring their hands over all the young kids from South Bronx who never get more than a Master’s Degree.

4. Education has been one way that some people have risen above mediocrity. By definition, not everyone can rise above mediocrity. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be mediocre. Education is not a path for everyone because it can’t be one.

5. What everyone can do, is strive to do their best. The standard of living can go up. Tomorrow’s mediocre can be better than yesterday’s. But there is no reason to believe that getting everyone “an education” will bring about this result.

6. It is a damaging delusion to believe that education is always or even mostly accomplished in an institutional setting. What gets touted as an “education” is really simply a certificate. And the value of the certificate is mostly due to the fact that, until they wake up, people treat it like a license.

7. The effort devoted to promoting education could be better spent encouraging people to do their best and better themselves, without worrying about whether this is or is not done in an academic setting.

The Gospel of Growing Up

I wrote once that the basic message of the Bible is “Boy meets Girl.” But, for that to work, the virgin must mature into the bride and the boy must become a man.

That doesn’t seem to be happening in Christian churches in North America and, I believe, therefore in many many churches where children have used the Bible to replicate more perpetual children.

The 1940s also saw the birth of the “teenager.” Unlike the more diverse youth of previous eras, teenagers all went to high school and participated in a national youth culture increasingly dominated by the same music, movies, products, and cultural beliefs. Although it may seem that the teenagers of the 21st century bear little resemblance to those of the 1950s, crucial similarities remain in the structure of adolescent life and its relationship to the church. And one of the most important traits is the aversion to growing up.

via When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity | Christianity Today.

Please read the article and consider the implications. Only a little googling will show there are plenty of secular unbelievers who are aghast at the rampant immaturity that has become the norm for people of all ages, especially men.

But the Bible directly addresses this issue. In fact, I suspect one of the reasons so many Christians find so much of the Bible to be mysterious or boring is because they don’t expect it to be concerned about maturation in history. And since the Bible is almost entirely about maturation in history, the result is the quest for a few texts that can be extracted in order to make the kind of sense that we expect to find in a Holy Book.

But it is all over the Bible, starting in Genesis. As I wrote in Desirable to make one wise:

The first time wisdom is mentioned in the Bible, it is used to describe what tempted Eve about the tree–that it was desirable to make her wise.

This seems to be the equivalent of gaining the knowledge of good and evil, having one’s eyes opened… and being like God.

At the end of Genesis 3 God seems to agree with these equivalences:

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil…”

Adam and Eve are naked in the beginning of Genesis. Genesis ends with a man who, after repeatedly losing his robe of authority through injustice, gains authority over the whole world… precisely because he is wise.

This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck.

So one sign of immaturity is an impatience for the fruits of maturity, without going through actual maturation. Growing up takes time. Joseph was patient for it.

The other sign of immaturity is more direct: an aversion to the prospect of growing up.

And this is tied into the Gospel itself. For the work of Christ was to bring about (to quote from Arthur C. Clarke’s sci-fi attempt to promote a fake Eschatology) childhood’s end.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God (Galatians 3:23-4:7 ESV).

One might get confused by the promise of adoption — “sons” versus the concept of childhood. Here Paul equates becoming a son with inheriting the authority and rights of an adult heir. One is a son when one takes over the estate.

So, having passed to the “adult” stage in history through the release provided by Jesus, now each believer and the church corporately is to appropriate this gift by personally growing up. Thus, from Ephesians 4:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV).

Look at that description of children: tossed any which way by the waves and winds of human cleverness…. And think of advertising. Think of the news. Think of the current presidential race.

From Proverbs to Ecclesiastes and the book(s) of wisdom

We know that Ezra is supposed to follow Chronicles because the last statement in the last chapter of Chronicles is repeated and elaborated in the first chapter of Ezra.

So how does Proverbs end and Ecclesiastes begin?

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vapor,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
Vapor of vapors, says the Preacher,
vapor of vapors! All is vapor.

I’ve never thought about the order or wisdom books in our English Bibles before. But it looks to me like Proverbs is supposed to be followed by Ecclesiastes. The Proverbs 31 man (not woman) leads to further thought and meditation.

(The Proverbs 31 man is the man who knows what to look for in a woman because he remembers what his mother told him. The Proverbs 31 woman can be derived from the text, but that is not the point. This is King Lemuel’s mother giving her son advice on a wife. Read it for yourself.)

I can’t help wondering if Canticles builds on Ecclesiastes. It certainly seems to extol love as the highest good. Which would fit well with the advice of Ecclesiastes, such as:

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

And what about Psalms? If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, then wouldn’t Psalms naturally come before Proverbs? Could this be how Solomon himself was prepared to be a wise man?

And then Job could be an introduction to both Psalms and Proverbs, the story of a wise king vindicated from his enemies–subject matter for both Psalms and Proverbs.

One book of wisdom in five movements?