(For a long time, I have been using the terms "Stage 1", "Stage 2", "Stage 3", and "Stage 4" to describe the various capabilities that the Holy Spirit Symbiote brings about within the believing Homo host. However, I came to the realization that I needed more descriptive terms to label an inter-related set of distinct capabilities that build upon each other. I have made a start toward this re-naming here. Thus, what I have been calling "stage 2" I will call Illumination. This is distinct from what I used to call Stage 4 (Inspiration), but I found the distinction between the two terms too fine to avoid confusion. I thus now call Stage 4 "Manipulation" to emphasize the external physical manifestion of the results of the Spirit's working. )
Introduction to Stage 2 - Illumination Being Led unto All Truth
The term "Illumination" comes from the phenomenon that everyone who has been in a difficult and challenging school class has experienced: it is the phenomenon of suddenly "seeing the point". It is the "aha moment". It's when "the lights come on." That which was formerly obscure to the struggling student suddenly becomes so obvious and clear that embarassment is sometimes felt. Theoreticians in the sciences experience Illumination when a mass of experimental results that looked like a confused and tangled chaos suddenly becomes exquisitely ordered when looked at from a different angle or with a different set of pre-suppositions. Artists call it "inspiration". Eastern mystics use the term "enlightenment" to mark the moment that the seeking acolyte suddenly grasps the true structure and nature of reality.
Once experienced, it becomes the turning point in a person's life. It is those moments that many try to replicate without success. Artisians mark their lives by the times illumination has come to them, counting the barren expanses of time between these comings as merely existing rather than living. Not a few creative individuals have turned to hallucinogenic drugs in an effort to "re-see" the world around them in an effort to provoke its arrival. These human attempts to bring it about "at will" rarely work, but the fact that they occasionally succeed encourages others to follow suit. This is both a testament to the incredible benefits of these rare events and the hunger for knowing that has led to our species being called Homo Sapiens. Those who receive illumination on a consistent basis are rightly called geniuses, and are considered the greatest of humanity's benefactors.
Sadly, the benefits are so great that too many turn to stealing the inspirations of others, with the result that the spirits of the victims become so scarred and gutted that they feel unable to ever create again. Who would blame them? After all, the rarity of a significant illumination leads us to conclude that it happens only once or twice in an individual's lifetime, and it is generally conceded that the feelings engendered by such a loss work to prevent any further illumination. This is so prevalent that the establishment of copyrights and patents "to promote the progress of science and useful arts" is enshrined within the Constitution of the United States in the same section that authorizes taxation and the coining of money. These protections have, from the beginning, been extended to artistic works because only the crassest of materialists would deny that the feeding of the human soul is not a "useful art" because of a personal (and self-refuting) belief that the soul does not exist. For those of my readers who have suffered such losses, I enthusiastically recommend the application of the Holy Spirit's ability of suppression as recounted here for the healing of their feelings and emotions. It worked for me, and it will work for you.
However, do not limit yourself to thinking that all that is available to you is the inner peace that comes from the elimination of the bitterness that springs from a personal loss of that which happens only once or twice in a person's lifetime, and maybe three times if one is lucky. The Holy Spirit has more to offer to the one within whom He abides forever.
Thus, I welcome my readers of a creative and inventive bent to the first essay of what I believe to be the most exciting of the Four Stages, which is the leading of us unto all truth by the Holy Spirit, and which is nothing less than the repeated illumination of a willing, informed, and prepared host. My hope and prayer is that those of my readers who are counted as "knowledge workers" and artisians in our modern world, who appreciate the power of ideas, who grasp the incredible implications of this stage, and who choose to walk in it, will join me in creating the next Scientific Revolution.
A new Golden Age.
The Second Renaissance.
Proverbs as Prior Work
Because the end result of what I call illumination appears to be the reception of wisdom, it is necessary that we situate this symbiotic capability within the larger framework of wisdom as outlined in the Scriptures. Although many commentators lump the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon into the category of "Wisdom Literature", I will examine Proverbs first, since it is acknowledged to be the book that deals most specifically with wisdom and its application. I will then follow up with an analysis of Ecclesiastes. (I had intended to look at Song of Solomon, but recent events indicate that this is better treated in a different essay in this Stage.)
The Overall Structure of Proverbs
The book of Proverbs is composed of five different sections. The first section (chapters 1 through 9), appears to be a collection of essays. The second section (chapters 10 through 24) is a collection of short sayings that usually deliver their message in a single verse or two, although there are some passages that take up more than two. The texture of the third section (chapters 25 through 29) is similar to the second, but appears to be the addition of a collection proverbs during Hezekiah's reign attributed to Solomon. The time of the addition of the fourth (chapter 30) and fifth (chapter 31) sections is unknown, but it is apparent that the final collator of Proverbs thought highly enough of the wisdom and reputation of Agur and King Lemuel's mother to append their works to that of Solomon's.
Current biblical criticism regarding the book of Proverbs holds that it is not divinely inspired, but rather the (dated) wisdom of (certainly) devout and (possibly) wise men. This appears to be a judgment based on Political Correctness: the numerous references to the necessity of corporal punishment are cited as examples of a brutal and primitive culture whose wisdom, they tell us, could not possibly benefit us more advanced moderns. The experience of Christian Parents whose children depart from the faith is appealed to as a proof of the non-divine origin of Proverbs 22:6 ("Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."). Difficult oppositions such as Proverbs 26:4-5 are brought up as examples of the Bible "contradicting itself". These, it is claimed, make a strong case against Proverbs being of divine origin.
Such criticism diverts attention away from the obvious fruit that the book has consistently produced throughout the ages within those who have read it and wrestled with it. There is a general admission that a large majority of the advice given is good. I will not repeat what I have written elsewhere about the "Krell Mind Machine" effect that arises when one daily reads the chapter of Proverbs corresponding to the currrent day of the month. If we place a greater emphasis on fruit produced rather than conformance to current educational and child rearing beliefs and practices, the poor yield and quality of the fruit coming from the latter tells us that Proverbs is not only a Bible book worth believing, but is also a book that judges us, rather than it being a subject of judgment by us. It is our culture and practice that is in the docket, with Proverbs being in the Judge's seat, rather than the other way around.
The Nature of Proverbs
The current structure of our physical Bibles hides the historical fact that each of the "books" in it were originally physically distinct and separate volumes. To really understand how radically unique and different the book of Proverbs is, we must free it from its modern-day bindery, let it stand on its own, take a step back to facilitate a view of the overall structure, dispose of our preconceptions of what Solomon, the Wisest Ancient, "could not possibly be", and apply the Duck Test to find its equal in our libraries. When we do so, we find that its structure is closest to modern day achievement test preparation books for the SAT and ACT, with the subject being that of establishing the existence and working of wisdom within the student. Just as these books start off with discussing the test itself, its structure, and strategies for approaching it, the first section of Proverbs discusses the nature of wisdom, its origin, what one must do to acquire it, and the signs and evidence of its presence. And just as the test prep books discuss what NOT to do before and during the test, so the first section of Proverbs discusses the behaviors and environments most hostile to the manifestation and presence of wisdom. And just as these books include sample tests that help the student get an idea of what to expect in real life, the remaining sections of Proverbs contain proverbs and sayings that the student uses to help them determine if they have acquired wisdom. Of course, there are some differences based on the nature of the "test" for which each of these books is helping their readers prepare: the test prep books have the advantage of knowing the structure and layout of the test they are discussing, its manner of grading, and have a good idea of the kinds of questions that will be on it, while the analogous characteristics of the Test of Life are much harder to discern. Thus, the test prep books are able to faithfully reproduce the format and layout of the tests the student will face. In contrast, the mish-mash-mix-up character of the proverbs in the second through fifth sections of Proverbs, including their order and presentation, better reflects the the order and variety with which Life presents its problems and challenges to all of us. This should not surprise us, for Life is much more complicated and demanding than a five hour test that can be repeatedly taken until one gets the best scores possible.
This method of "bootstrapping" understanding was followed by our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 13. Jesus tells the parable of the Sower in verses 3-9. The disciples ask him why he speaks in parables in verse 10, and Jesus explains in verses 11 to 17 that understanding is given by God, implying that the ability to understand a parable is evidence that God is working within the inquirer. This seems a bit hard and unreasonable of God, but the fact that the Gospel of Matthew (and Mark here and Luke here) record this commentary is a warning that understanding is a critical aspect of one's spiritual growth: to memorize scripture verses is good, but the whole point of memorizing them in the first place is to help us understand them. The remainder of Matthew 13 has Jesus telling various parables about different aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven (which I take as being the coming of the Holy Spirit into the believer). He finishes that section of Matthew with the question "Do you understand what I have said?" Upon their affirmative answer, Jesus replies "Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old." The scribes were those who knew the scriptures and copied them using various quality assurance techniques used today to ensure high-fidelity transmission. Apparently, in Jesus' eyes, of the offices of Judaism of that day (Pharisees, Sadducees, Priests, Lawyers, and Scribes), the office of Scribe was to continue as part of the Kingdom of Heaven's administration. The emphasis was on bringing out stuff "new and old", which clearly is a warning to not freeze one's understanding of the Scriptures to that which is traditional (old). In addition to preserving the old, the duty of the Scribe was to bring about fresh understanding of the scriptures. However, what is pertinent is that the process by which Jesus led the disciples through the process of being able to understand the meaning behind his parables is identical to the process Solomon embodied in Proverbs.
A word to the want-to-be-wise: You can't skip any of the early stages. Jesus himself felt that the Parable of the Sower was the Master Parable, since he implied that one had to understand that one to understand all the parables. That is level 0. The ground floor. Chapter 1. If you "get it", you have the key to all the other parables. If you don't, you're stuck.
Conjectured Origin and Development of Proverbs
Permit me some conjectures on the probable origin and growth of the book of Proverbs that will motivate and guide my analysis of it. By all appearances, it was initially written by Solomon as an instrument for replicating the development of wisdom. After all, not everyone can afford a thousand sacrifices to get God's attention to get into a position to ask for it. The rulership of a king whose wisdom came from God resulted in a Golden Age of Israel whose accounts begin in the Old Testament here and here. This is not to say that he was solely responsible for that blessed time. Given the divine origin of his wisdom, as well as the humility that prompted his request for it, I believe Solomon realized early on that he could not do it all alone. He would need a cohort of wise men to spread the blessings of wisdom throughout Israel. There was a precedent for this: Moses, led by the suggestion of Jethro, his father-in-law, and endorsed by God's later approval, set up a system of greater and lesser judges that helped nuture Israel through the wilderness journey. These judges eventually became the skeleton of the Israelite "government" after their arrival at the Promised Land. It was to develop such a cohort of wise men that Solomon composed the first two sections of the book of Proverbs. It is my conjecture that the latter three sections were added by Hezekiah in less than optimal social conditions: he reigned over Judah during the time when King Sennacherib of Assyria had conquered the northern kingdom and was systematically taking out his defensive border towns. Del Tackett's commentary on that time captures, better than I can, the sense of desperation that Hezekiah and the city of Jerusalem must have had in the face of such a war machine. I thus conjecture that the Book of Proverbs was revived and expanded as a kind of pre-captivity Manhattan Project to address the crisis of the moment, doubtless inspired by this example. Thus, the third section appears to be a set of proverbs penned by Solomon for the private training of future kings of Israel that Hezekiah directed to be added to the book as his contribution to its revival. I further conjecture that the fourth and fifth sections were added at this time as well. In the end, Judah was delivered by the power of God rather than by wisdom, which was a good thing since the book itself contained specific counsel that was disregarded in the panic of the times that would have told them the effort was doomed. I will address that part of Proverbs later on this essay because I concur with Del Tackett's assessment that the current crisis mirrors that faced by Hezekiah, so prudence dictates that we learn from the failures of our predecessors lest we repeat their mistakes.
Since this portion of the essay is concerned with the relationship between wisdom in the Old Testament and the working of the Holy Spirit in the new, and in light of the above conjectures on the purpose and structure of Proverbs, I will confine my review of that book to selected portions of the first nine chapters. To summarize the conjectured structure, the first section discusses the nature of wisdom, while the remaining sections are compliations of proverbs to test the depth of the wisdom that the student has acquired by following the instructions of the first section. This is not to slight the last four sections. It is my belief that all the proverbs are true, in the same way that all the answers to difficult mathematical problems in a math book should be assumed to be true. To assume otherwise is to defeat their purpose of measuring the quality and depth of that which is being tested. If you have problems getting the right math answer, then it is more probable that your understanding of the method of solution is deficient than to believe that the book is wrong. In the same way, students that have difficulty in understanding a proverb from Proverbs should assume that some aspect of wisdom within themselves is lacking that requires remediation.
Finally, I should point out that literary critics who pan the simplicity of some of the Proverbs as an argument against the divine origin of the book reveal their incompetence in literary analysis: a book claiming to be a textbook for creating wisdom in those who don't have it (Proverbs 1:1-6) must have a graduated and multi-level means of assessing progress at all levels, necessitating that some of the proverbs be "simple" to measure progress at the lower end of the scale.
Analyzing the First Section of Proverbs
After stating the purpose of the Book of Proverbs in the first six verses , Solomon states the three most valuable lessons for obtaining wisdom in verses 7 through 9:
7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Solomon begins with his own experience, which is that wisdom comes from the LORD (YHWH). He repeats this in Proverbs 2:1-11, 3:1-12; 9:10 Because every student must respect his teacher to the point of being terrified of being a shame to him, so they should fear coming short in that which the LORD teaches them. In contrast, fools despise the need for wisdom and instruction. The literary method of the Hebrews was to make a statement, then either rephrase it positively or contrast it by expressing the opposite in opposite terms. Thus, it is safe to conclude that "knowledge", "wisdom", and "instruction" are either all on the same level or are components of wisdom. (An aside: my policy on this website is to report and expound only on that which I have experienced or which I strongly believe to be true based on solid reasoning. Thus, I find comfort that Solomon, in verse 7, follows this policy as well by drawing upon his own experience.)
The teaching of the New Testament is in agreement with Solomon. James, the brother of Jesus, repeats the fact that Wisdom comes from God when giving the promise of wisdom recorded in James 1:5-8. More importantly, when Jesus himself was asked about the Parable of the Sower by his disciples, he took the time to give the "hardest" saying that offends us moderns before going into the parable itself. Here is Matthew 13:10-17, the longest passage that explains in detail what is summarized in Mark 4:10-13 and Luke 8:9-10:
10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? 11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. 12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. 13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. 14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: 15 For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. 17 For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
In verse 11, Jesus states what Solomon said: the ability to understand is given, pointing out in verse 12 that existing understanding is to be used by the hearers to gain new understanding. This is further amplified in verse 17, where the implication is given that the prophets and righteous men of the Old Testament would have understood what he was talking about if they were hearing what the disciples were hearing. That Jesus had come to give the parables that the disciples were hearing implies that the revelation of the Messiah was necessary to further the understanding of these prophets and righteous men. Because the coming of the Messiah is a time-based event rooted in history, these worthies were prevented from this understanding due to the necessary circumstance of their job as fore-tellers of the future Messiah. What is most encouraging was that their understanding, while not having the same content as what the disciples were getting, was sufficient enough to tell them that their own understanding was insufficient. An illustration of this phenomenon of an understanding profound enough to self-illuminate gaps within its own content is the development of the Periodic Table of the Elements. Dmitri Mendeleev had a deep enough understanding of the elements and how to arrange them to not only re-arrange them into a proper order based on atomic number (a concept not discovered until much later), but was able to discern that certain slots in his preliminary table could not be filled in because they represented elements that had not yet been discovered. In a word, he knew enough to know what he didn't know. It was that knowing what he didn't know that won him the honor of being credited as the discoverer of the Periodic Table. We shall return to this issue later in this essay.
An aside: Jesus gives the force of spiritual authority in verse 12 to the principle of "them who has, gets", denying moral authority to those who believe so much in a strictly eglitarian society that they are prepared to use the force of government to impose their vison on the unwilling. The fact that every member in such a society is not granted equal ability to impose their views on everyone else, is pretty much proof that such a society is not only illusory, but that those who advocate it, and who advance themselves as those best suited to bring it about, do not sincerely believe it. The fact that such people still don't understand that their goal is illusory, and that they believe themselves morally superior to the rest of mankind, is living proof that true understanding is given by, and comes from, God.
Proverbs 1:8 then says:
8 My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: 9 For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.
It does not amaze me that there are rock stars and celebrities who counsel young people to disobey and disrespect their parents out of mercenary motives. What does amaze me is that there are young people (styling themselves to be worldly wise and savvy) who fall for this line, not seeing it as a transparent attempt to capture their hearts preparatory to the capture of the contents of their pocketbooks. My amazement stems from the obvious fact that these same celebrities were nowhere to be found when these children needed their diapers to be changed, had hungry bellies that needed filling with food that had to be acquired by the sweat of their parents brows, and were AWOL while they were teething, cholic, wetting their beds, or sick. Here, Solomon states the obvious: you can trust that the advice from the people who worked to take care of you and who invested their lives in you is going to be the very best that they can give. In our modern day of AWOL parents, Solomon would amend it to include the relative who took care of you, or the incredibly selfless and loving couple who adopted you. These people have earned the right to be heard and heeded. He repeats this specific counsel in Proverbs 6:20-35 and 7:1-3. (The use of the term "my son" may be confusing when the father and mother of the student is referred to in the third person. This either refers to Solomon or to the teacher conducting the class of which Proverbs is the textbook: those teachers who take seriously the duty of teaching will "take ownership" of those learning from them as their own children, investing themselves in the success of their students as much as their mothers and fathers had invested in them.)
Verses 10-19 are a warning against participating in a group of undesirables to the extent of investing oneself totally in them ("Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse"). This is the first of many counsels of what one should not do because doing them would prevent the working of wisdom: participation in a group that has a goal of evil robs one of the ability to think and act independently. If wisdom truly is of God, then paying attention to the group/mob rather than to what one's common sense and insight tells them is abandoning the word of God to adopt the word of men. This reflects modern warnings about the perils of "group think" that I cannot help but see is operating in the thinking today regarding "man-made Global Warming". Solomon repeats this warning in Proverbs 4:14-19.
In the interest of time, I will summarize the other counsels that are in the next 8 chapters of the first section. These counsels are to refrain from evil (Proverbs 2:10-14), avoid co-signing for loans (Proverbs 6:1-5), work hard (Proverbs 6:6-11), live a truthful lifestyle (Proverbs 6:12-19), and avoid fornication and adultery (Proverbs 2:16-22, 5:1-23; 6:20-35; 7:6-27; 9:13-18). The number of references to avoiding inappropriate sexual liasons is a sad reflection on the popular joke that God gave man two organs that dictate his behavior, but not enough blood to properly operate both of them at the same time. Even a man as wise as Solomon failed to "run the numbers" to figure out that he was being warned.
In verses 20 to 33, we come to the first passage of direct interest to us:
20 Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: 21 She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, 22 How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? 23 Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. 24 Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; 25 But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: 26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; 27 When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. 28 Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: 29 For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD: 30 They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. 31 Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. 32 For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. 33 But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.
The standard view of passages like this in the first section of Proverbs is that Solomon is using a literary device by personifying wisdom (Allegory). Mr William Young follows this convention in his book "The Shack" where Sophia becomes "the manifestation of Papa's (God the Father's) Wisdom". In fact, the word "sophia" is the greek word used in the Septuagint version of this passage that is translated "wisdom", and people today name their daughters "Sophia" to indicate their desire that they display wisdom in their lives.
However, there are elements in this passage, and in others, that suggest that a more literal interpretation should be considered. That is, I propose that we should entertain the possiblity that the woman in Proverbs depicted as Wisdom might be a literal being whose character and personality can be acertained by reading "between the lines". While this goes against the standard interpretation, I should point out that the allegorical interpretation of this passage has a long tradition in Judaism that Christian theologians may have adopted without considering that the Gospel sometimes revises and supercedes Jewish belief and practice. An example of this supercession of understanding that the disciples originally had problems with, but present day Christians do not, is the Jewish understanding of the Messiah's character, work, and mission. The view of the symbiotic nature of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the believer advocated by this website is founded on this very phenomenon of the conception and development of a recent idea (symbiosis) suddenly augmenting our understanding of an older phenomenon (the Holy Spirit's work within the believer).
I believe that a fundamental difficulty in working with this passage is that the same word, "wisdom", is used to designate the name of our proposed entity and the name of that which our purported entity dispenses. This conflation is standard practice in allegorical writing, which was a literary style quite popular during the middle ages. The most accessable examples of this style, somewhat modified, survive today in the non-expository works of John Bunyan, of which "Pilgrim's Progress" is the most well known. To avoid this confusion and to help us in the task of identification, I will use the greek name "Sophia" to refer to the woman that is called Wisdom throughout the first section of Proverbs while reserving the word "wisdom" to that which Sophia dispenses. (An aside: some literary critics have disputed that Bunyan's writing style in "Pilgrim's Progress" is purely allegorical, noting that his departures from it, though panned by the purists of his day, laid the foundations for the style used today in modern novels, and accounts for the popularity of his works then and now. The pure allegorical form was getting tired, they argue, but the writers of that day did not have a good idea of what could take its place until Bunyan showed the way, helping bury the pure allegorical form as a side-effect. This is what a tinker (a pot and pan repair man) did for the literary arts when moved by the Holy Spirit.)
To discover the name of the being whose proposed personification we are calling Sophia, we will use the Duck Test, which requires that we first enumerate essential and pertinent properties and behaviors, followed by a search for other entities that share similar properties and behaviors. First, we find that Sophia is an active proponent for wisdom, taking her case "to the streets", publicly calling on people to receive her words and rebuking those who refuse to hear her. This theme of verses 20 and 21 is repeated in Proverbs 8:1-11 and 9:1-9. Secondly, Sophia's speech and words are wisdom and truth itself. Thirdly, Sophia speaks of "pouring out my spirit" upon those who receive her. Fourthly, there is an optimal time window to receive her, which is BEFORE you need her, which is why Hezekiah's revival of Proverbs was not destined to succeed, for it was done during the time of the Assyrian threat and not before that. The optimal time to have revived Proverbs was at the commencement of his reign, not when Sennacherib's army was knocking down the border towns. What we must take away from Hezekiah's semi-failure is that we must start "seeking Sophie" NOW, while we have lots of spare time and low levels of mind-distracting pressure to properly integrate her lessons. Last minute cramming Will. Not. Work. The reference in verse 28 to seeking her "early" is in reference to getting up early in the morning to pray for her assistance. In other words, the crisis is so dire that the victims have forsaken partying late and sleeping late in their desperation to get help.
There are other characteristics given in other passages in the 8 other chapters of the first section that I will summarize in the interest of space. Sophia claims that her wisdom has great value worth seeking (Proverbs 3:13-20; 4:1-13, 8:12-21; 8:32-36). She claims she was with God advising him at the very beginning of creation in imagery that has her and God seeming to be standing side-by-side discussing the architecture of the cosmos as mutual equals (Proverbs 3:13-20; 8:22-31). Those who love her love life, while those who hate widom love death (Proverbs 8:32-36). In Proverbs 7:4, the seeker is counseled to hold and regard wisdom as a close relative, such as a sister! Every word out of her mouth is truth, and she hates false and boastful speech (Proverbs 8:12-21).
It is my belief that these characteristics positively identify Sophia as the pre-Pentecost manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Consider the following parallels:
- The prevenient action of the Holy Spirit within the hearts of non-believers mirrors that of Sophia wandering up and down the streets shouting her desire that men pay attention to her wisdom. "Come, let us reason together..." is the invitation that is given to sinners by God in Isaiah 1:16-20, suggesting that prevenient grace is the temporary embuement of wisdom by the Holy Spirit, a gift for which James claimed that all men could ask of God, and who could possess a sure confidence that such a prayer would be answered (James 1:5-8).
- God is said to give wisdom to those who seek after it earnestly, and it is God who also gives, to everyone who asks him, the Spirit that leads them unto all truth.
- Sophia's hatred of falsehood is mirrored by the Spirit's slaying of the lying couple of Ananias and Sapphira.
- The parables of the pearl of great price and the treasure in the field are intended to convey the incredibly great value and advantage that the Holy Spirit brings to the believer, mirroring Sophia's promises of honor, riches, and long life to those who heed her words. (This particular point rests on my thesis is that the phrase "Kingdom of Heaven" as used by Jesus Christ was his title for the future presence of the Holy Spirit working in and through the believer.)
- Solomon's description of Sophia being at the splitting of the waters that created the atmosphere and the rise of the land masses almost suggests an instrumentative role in bringing it about that mirrors the work of the Spirit during the second and third days of creation. Certainly, Sophia's boast that "I was by him, as one brought up with him" (Proverbs 8:30) is as close as Solomon was willing to accept Sophia as YHWH's equal.
An aside: In saying the above, I do not want to leave the impression that it was Solomon's intention to describe the Third member of the Godhead as Christians understand Him, nor lay the groundwork for a Hebraic view of God as a Trinity: the Hebraic understanding of the One God was, and continues to be, that He is physically single. The term used to describe the singleness of God is the hebrew word "echad", equivalent to the number "1", giving rise to the Hebraic understanding of YHWH as physically single. Significantly, the same word is used to describe a husband and wife coming together in the institution of marriage (Genesis 2:24). This is not the same as the sexual union, for which the hebrews used the term "yada", to know (Genesis 4:1; 4:17; 4:25). "Yada" is the same word that the KJV translates as "know", "acknowledge", "understand", and "teach" in Proverbs. To be sure, the Hebraic understanding of YHWH as One, as expressed in the Shema, has undergone revision. In the beginning, it was understood that there was only One God in the Hebrew "pantheon", as contrasted to the multiple gods of the pantheons of Rome, Greece, Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt. That is, the cardinality of the Pantheon of Senior Greek Gods is 7, while the cardinality of the Hebrew Pantheon is 1. However, the early Hebrews were hentotheists. A hentotheist believed that different patches of the earth's surface were under the control of different pantheons of Gods, and that the extent of these patches were determined by the extent of the political control of each god's worshippers. This was the context underlying the content of Jephthah's letter/lecture to the Ammonites as given in Judges 11:12-28. The Prophets and some of the more learned of the Hebrew people, such as King Hezekiah, were true monotheists because they held that the cardinality of the set of all the gods in the entire universe (as they understood it) was 1. In contrast, the typical hebrew hentotheist thought that the cardinality was an unknowably large but finite number roughly proportional to the number of unique people-groups in the world. It was during the Babylonian Captivity that the Jewish people as a group became Hezekiah-class monotheists who interpreted Daniel's success as a court official as proof that God's power was not territorially limited. (The understanding of the work and nature of Satan is another Jewish concept whose evolution in the scriptures can be traced and whose final form was an adaptation of insights gained from the Medes.)
It is my conjecture that Solomon's wisdom, and that of any who ask for it based on Proverbs, was a mental prosthetic generated by the influence (but not the inward presence) of the Holy Spirit, similar in effect (but not in causation) to the Gift of Wisdom. Like me, he detected a texture to the wise thoughts being generated from within his heart that strongly suggested a personality behind the thoughts. However, I think that his belief that God is a Singleton led him to the alternate belief that this personality was an artifact of the creativity that he inherited from his father David and which he eventually used as a convenient allegorical figure to vividly illustrate the various characteristics of Wisdom/Sophia in the first section of Proverbs. It is also likely that his use of the feminine gender to identify Wisdom was to distinguish between the gift (wisdom/feminine) and the Giver (YHWH/masculine) in the minds of his readers. I have pointed out that some have taken the humble, self-sacrificing, nuturing, and cooperative behavior of the Holy Spirit as a license to turn Him into a divine doormat. In Solomon's day, doormats of the human sort were the women and the slaves, so this allegorical figure became feminine rather than masculine. As usual, God worked this expression of a deplorable cultural artifact for good, since the Holy Spirit's personality consistently manifesting Himself as Sophia to subsequent wise men, including Hezekiah, made such a good impression that they added what is our 31st chapter of Proverbs, without which we would not have a good idea of what a wise woman looks and behaves like. It seems to me that the Holy Spirit worked covertly as the feminine Sophia for the uplifting of women in the Old Testament as He later would do overtly in the Churches of the New Testament. Thus, arguing that Sophia and the Holy Spirit cannot be the same being by pointing to the contradictory gender terminology is not (in my mind) conclusive in light of the pre-existing conceptions of the nature of God that the Hebrews held. (A darker speculation: Solomon married 700 wives and 300 concubines out of a desire to find a physical, actual woman like Sophia. Of course he never succeeded, but obviously not for lack of trying.)
"This is not the Holy Spirit You are Looking For!"
Another possible argument that may be made against equating Sophia with the Holy Spirit is the one based on personality: detractors would note that Sophia has a limit to her patience and the time and effort she is willing to expend trying to convince people to listen to her, while the Holy Spirit, being God, must necessarily have infinite patience. Also, she is not a very sympathetic character when people suffer the consequences of their decisions, taunting them in their suffering and not bothering to lift a finger to help them out of their distress. In contrast, they point out that the Holy Spirit, as God, must necessarily be Love incarnate and infinitely merciful, so one would expect him to come to the aid of the distressed if they call upon God. These differences, they would claim, are significant enough to disprove the equivalence.
Unfortunately, the argument fails because it is founded on wishful thinking based on philosophical conjectures rather than a biblically supported view of the Holy Spirit. Paul warns the Ephesians not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30), indicating that this member of the Trinity draws a line that, if crossed by the unrepentant, results in Him refusing to work with them any further. And just because the Trinity is One does not mean that the members are cookie-cutter identical clones sharing a hive mind: Christ is quite willing to forgive blasphemies against him, but the Holy Spirit does not (Matthew 12:31, Luke 12:10). The belief in an infinitely patient and infinitely loving God leads to the unfortunate Armenian extreme of Universalism that ignores the scriptures that teach that there is soil that does not bring forth fruit (Mark 4:1 - 20), that there will be no one lost because of personal foolishness (Matthew 25:1-13), that no one will be rejected because of laziness disguised as prudence (Matthew 25:14-30), that there is Someone who is worth fearing because they can send people to hell (Matthew 10:26-33), and that there are humans that are children of the devil and not of God (John 8:36-45) who are better characterized as tares fit for burning than wheat worth saving (Matthew 13:24-30). If there is a desire among some to minimize and suppress the ministry and person of the Holy Spirit, it may be because they may instinctively sense that He is the hard-nosed and hard-boiled member of the Trinity. (I will show, in a later essay of this Stage, how this "unpleasant" character trait (as some would cast it), can work for us as well as "against" us.)
Thoughts and Words
Another aspect of Sophia that suggests that it is the Holy Spirit is the process by which the instruction is given to the student. That is, Sophia speaks in the process of instructing the student. The language in all the Sophia passages has her crying in the streets, teaching, laughing, rebuking, pouring out her words to those who, if they heed them, are fulsomely praised. This mirrors the process of the Holy Spirit generating thoughts that are perceived as words that was postulated in this essay. Both of them "speak", but that speaking is in the form of thoughts that the inner man perceives as words. Those whom we call the Prophets and the writers of the Old and New Testaments heard that voice distinctly enough to write it down with confidence. This is not at all my theory, for this is how Peter explains the process by which all scripture is given (2 Peter 1:21).
We will explore the process of how this instruction is effected by the Holy Spirit in a later essay. However, I want to point out the unrecognized inconsistency of people who declare that the development of the Scriptures is the "perfection" that Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians 13:10 that caused the gifts and the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit to cease. Jesus criticized the Pharisees for not realizing, while they searched the scriptures, that those scriptures testified of him (John 5:39). While it was good that they searched the scriptures, they failed to see Jesus becasue they did not get the understanding that comes from God that was required to help them "connect the dots".
In every court, divine and human, the testimony on behalf of the one testified of is of lesser importance than the character and veracity of the testifier. Those who deny the importance of the Holy Spirit while upholding the importance of the Scriptures are behaving like the Pharisees who thought that the sacrifice on the altar was more important than the altar, or that the gold on the temple was more important than the temple. Just as Jesus rightly condemned this inversion of what sanctifies what (Matthew 23:16-22) in his day, so we should in ours.
The key take-away from Proverbs of relevance to us is that wisdom is given by God, and that the imagery of the first section of Proverbs of Wisdom's personification can be reasonably interpreted as suggesting that the giving of this wisdom is effected by the Holy Spirit at the "nuts and bolts" level. The fact that God the Father ordains something while a specific member of the Trinity effects it should not lead us to distain, ignore, or count as un-involved the one who effects it in the name of exalting The Father as "the one who really deserves the credit". For example, Salvation was ordained by God the Father, but the actual effecting of it was done by God the Son, Jesus Christ, but no one is insisting that Jesus' effecting of salvation be ignored because calling attention to it draws attention and glory away from God the Father because the latter is "the one who really deserves the credit"! As a God who honors those who are fruitful, we know that the Father exalted Jesus precisely because he was the one who brought the intent to fruition, and also commands that we honor Jesus for what He did. In the same way, we need to give proper credit to the One who "gets down and dirty" to bring about the growth of wisdom within the human heart. All of the advice given in the first section is intended to keep the mind pure and focussed so that the student's behavior is maximally acceptable to the Spirit, and the remaining sections test the presence and quality of the wisdom that the student has received.
The fact that wisdom comes from God via the Holy Spirit should not be taken as downgrading or denying the ability of Proverbs to "generate" wisdom as it has been traditionally used. To believe that "Jesus helps us with our temptations", when it is actually the Holy Spirit who is manipulating neuro-transmitters and synapse firings to enable us to overcome temptation, does not block the Holy Spirit from doing so. To use a physics/mathematics term, believing that it is Jesus working "at a distance", when the truth of the matter is that it is really the Holy Spirit at work "up close and personal" is a "good first order approximation". The tricky part about using first order approximations is that one must expect that the approximation will eventually diverge from reality. Engineers and scientists are not surprised when calculations and models based only on first order approximations fail when pushed close to their limits, and fail spectacularly when pushed beyond those limits. The inability of people in general, and me in particular, to overcome their private compulsions despite much prayer to Jesus and agonizing "at the altar" should have been an indicator that our assumptions and beliefs needed revision.
However, this does not seem to be the case with Proverbs: the belief that the mere reading of the book of Proverbs would produce wisdom, and actually getting wisdom when one acts on that belief, when in reality it is the Holy Spirit working wisdom into the human mind of the believing reader, would merit that belief as "a pretty darn good third order approximation".
In fact, if prior experience in nature and science with the creative destruction of third order approximations is any guide, then what we have is not only a third order approximation, but also a very good indicator of where to look to discover the true mechanism behind the phenomenon. In this case, it is apparent that the effectiveness of Proverbs is a proof of what I had conjectured earlier with regard to the use that Jesus made of the Book of Deuteronomy during his temptations in the wilderness: Scripture is not only given by the Holy Spirit to the prophets, but is also a tool of communication in itself that is used by the Holy Spirit Himself.
Permit me a further speculation: I believe that the Book of Proverbs is the product of a deliberately pursued collaboration between Solomon and the Spirit of Wisdom with the express purpose of generating Holy Scripture to bring about an intended result. Up until then, scripture was given unilaterally to the prophets in the same way that the Law was given to Moses. That is, Moses did not think "We need to give these people some social, religious, and health laws to follow, so which ones do you suggest, LORD?" Instead, the LORD said, "This is the way I want things run!", and Moses said "YESSIR!". In contrast, I believe that the project to generate wisdom in the hearts of the average Hebrew was a project conceived by Solomon who justified it based on observations he made of the Spirit's actions in his father David's poetic works. I find it extremely hard to believe that the Psalms of David failed to produce in believing Israelites the same sort of comfort, faith, and encouragement back then that we ourselves get from them today. Seeing how they probably knew the tunes they were sung in, and natively spoke the Hebrew language that we read only in translation, I would believe that they got more from it back then than we do from it today.
However, I speculate that what affected Solomon more than the Book of Psalms itself was the process by which they were written: as David's heir apparent, I am quite sure that he had talked to his father about how they came to be written, and probably watched him generate a few in real-time. While I doubt that the young man actually grasped what he was seeing at the time he saw it, I want to relate an experience that happened to me that I am sure happened to Solomon. I was about 16 when I visited a much older cousin who was attending college to get a Physics degree. I recall him working some math problems in the book, and while he was talking with his brother, I leaned over and studied what he was working on. I asked him what he was working on, but he blew me off, saying I did not have a good enough foundation. Irritated, I still followed along, noting that his fingers moved in a strange pattern over the notations while he was working the problems. About five years later, I was sitting in an advanced math class following the instructor on how to find the collapsed "value" of a three by three matrix when I suddenly recognized the same notation, and the same finger motion patterns being performed by the instruction that my cousin years earlier had performed while doing his problems. I recall that I was extremely irritated that he had not bothered trying to teach that stuff me. What he did somehow stuck in my brain, only to come into the vivid focus of the mental eye years later upon seeing it again.
I believe that the same thing happened to Solomon. It probably began to dawn on him after his personal Illumination, and on other pious wise Hebrews of the day, that the Spirit of God had been working through David, but the man himself did not know it. David merely followed his music-making talents and maunderings, doubtless strumming the strings of his harp while "tuning around" and "fooling around" the way guitarists do today while trying to kill time between practices, only to slowly write, with the unseen help of the Spirit, a Psalm that would bring comfort, faith, clarity, and sanity to countless people in future ages, including people not yet born and who would speak in languages unheard and unconceived for thousands of years. It must have seemed extremely natural to him, probably including the display of the usual bit of manic-obsession that universally strikes artists, musicians, and other creators during the heat of the creative process that is recognizable across time, space, and culture. (An aside: one may say that we Christians today enjoy what could be called "rev 2" of the Homo/Deus interface, mainly because the integration between us and the Indwelling Spirit is much more intimate and complete. While being much more beneficial and efficient, this intimacy does has its downsides. For starters, the very "naturalness" of it may lead us to mistake divine movings as human fancies, leading to "analysis paralysis" as we try to read modern occurrances out of ancient scriptures written primarily for the benefit of saints long dead. This has the effect of committing us to not rising higher than our predecessors when Jesus himself assured the disciples (and us through them) that they would do greater works than he did. To believe otherwise is to adopt what William Barclay charitably calls "a mistaken reverence" that spins disobedience as humility. The flip side (symmetry dictates there always is one) is that this "naturalness" leads us to mistake divine abilities as personal ones. Thus, it should be no surprise that the greater proportion of clergy and ministry failures today are Pentecostal/Charismatic in origin. The number and magnitude of crashes of people who walked in the Spirit and worked signs and miracles are so great that those seeking to end their Christian walk better than they started it have reasonable justification to avoid multiplying these particular talents. Unfortunately, those of us who are "in the know" don't have that luxury. As best as I can tell, the solution to this situation points toward the adoption and adaptation of the disaster and fault analysis methods used by engineers to improve reliability into Christian theological methodology, whereby we analyze the lives and fruit of those who have "gone down in flames" before us to come up with methodologies, practices, and (most importantly) the required mindset so that we can responsibly handle the powers of the world to come. Of particular note is a recent observation of mine that it was only an assumption of mine that all the disciples worked miracles in the Book of Acts: while all the disciples benefitted from miracles, the actual text records that only Peter, Paul, Stephen, Phillip, and Ananias of Damascus worked miracles. This "privileged" group was composed of the one disciple who verbally denied Jesus, a johnny-come-lately who had a complex as a former persecutor of the church that led him to call himself "the least of the apostles", two bottom-church-echelon deacon food delivery men, and one very scared layman. I appear to have my work cut out for me...)
In recollecting the memory of his father's creative sessions and considering them with the increased illumination coming from a gift of wisdom coming from God, Solomon probably came to think, "Yeah, the Spirit was upon him, but what I saw was that he started the process and the Spirit joined in after the ball started rolling to help keep it moving to the goal. I wonder what would happen if I started on a project to generate some writings that would create wisdom in just about anybody willing to read them and listen? Would the Spirit of God join in and help me in the same way if I just started it? More importantly, would the Spirit of God join in and help those who will read what we write?" What came out of that "project" to drive wisdom into a wider audience was the Book of Proverbs. I speculate that it was the first attempt to generate a book of the sacred scriptures on purpose based on the assumption that the Inspired writer could actively cooperate with the Spirit of God rather than be treated as a mere mimeograph. How much of our modern age is founded on the discoveries of men whose wisdom was born reading Proverbs is probably something we will never know in this age of the world, but I suspect that the fraction is not only substantial, but also crucial and foundational as well.
Before I move on to examining Ecclesiastes, I want to urge my readers to not adopt the attitude of those neo-calvinists whose extreme, but mistaken, piety leads them to object to any idea that there is anything that a Christian, as a human, can do in cooperation with the Divine, much less exploit and leverage certain proclivities of the Divine to personal and communal advantage. I am aware of one individual who totally missed the monetary aspects of the term "earnest" that Paul used when describing the giving of the Holy Spirit to the believer. They regarded the presence of the Holy Spirit within them as something inert and inactive, like a sort of trophy to be put on the mantelpiece. Upon his conversion, John Bunyan's Christian was given a roll to attest to his being an authentic pilgrim. While Bunyan assured us that the roll was of some intermediate value because Christian sometimes read from it to comfort himself before he turned it in at the Heavenly Gates, this individual appeared to regard the presence of the Holy Spirit as being of no personal utility whatsoever. This is an appalling attitude that I speculate is due to being motivated by the same fears that motivated the servants who buried their talent or pound rather than to actively employ it so as to increase it. It is as if the man who sold all he had to buy the field insisted on keeping the treasure in the field. Or if he dug it out he kept it hidden under his bed, making his family guard it in shifts without any of them benefitting in any way from its contents. It is as if the merchant who sought out fine pearls had purchased the Pearl of Great Price with everything he had did so for the sole purpose of gazing at it while hiding from thieves in some dirty, dark, and hidden alley, dressed in the rags that he couldn't sell because nobody wanted them. Merchants are known to do many unusual things, but never that from which they get no profit whatsoever. More to the point, it is like a man who marries a charmingly gentle, quiet, and graciously good woman whose real dowery is her incredible wisdom, skill, and industry, but who just stuffs her into his private harem rooms and won't let her out to breathe. I contrast this attitude to that of the wise husband of Proverbs 31, who let his equally wise and talented wife spread her wings and fly. Those offended at the thought that the Spirit interacts with us like a wife interacts with her husband, waiting on him for permission to make both of them shine, should probably take a second look at how they treat their own wives! That is, if they have a wife, since no modern woman is going to marry, or stay married, with a man who acts on his feelings of being threatened by her talents and abilities by putting her in a cage.
Permit me some brief personal comments before I start my review of the book of Ecclesiastes: My original intent of this specific essay was to only cover Proverbs. However, as I neared the completion of the previous pages, I got an uneasy sense (on July 19) that something was missing that was not assuaged by reviewing the text and not seeing anything obviously out of place or wrong. I went to consult with the Spirit, and after asking for a scripture text to read, was directed to Ecclesiastes. The sense that I got was that I was to cover Ecclesiastes as well. A reading of the book on the morning of July 20th convinced me that my distaste to address Ecclesiastes was real, but that the requirement to address it in the essay was equally real. I believe it was shortly after church, while polishing this essay, that I resigned myself to addressing Ecclesiastes. My distaste of Ecclesiastes arises from the fact that I am of a melancholic temperament that gets easily activated when it thinks upon the subject matter that Ecclesiastes addresses. This appears to be a trait shared by those young people of this generation that are called "emos", but when I was their age, I suffered in silence and lonliness.
Later that same afternoon I got a distraught phone call from a co-worker that a mutual acquaintance of ours had died after suffering a massive heart attack who was only three years my senior in age.
That tragedy, coupled with the Spirit's mandate, my reading of Ecclesiastes that morning, and the "normal" Sunday evening blues that seemed to hit me harder than normal forced my thoughts into a somewhat different direction that the Spirit used to lead me to realise why I had to deal with Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes will not help us understand the Holy Spirit better.
Rather, our new understanding of the Holy Spirit will help us deal with the issues raised by Ecclesiastes that plagued the thoughtful of those days, and which torment the thoughtful of our days as well.
While he never gives his own name, "the preacher" has been traditionally identified as Solmon. I concur with that assessment based on Ecclesiastes 1:12, 1:16, and other details within the book. Thus, I may refer to the speaker of Ecclesiastes as "the preacher" and "Solomon" interchangeably in this discussion.
Ecclesiastes differs from Proverbs in several respects. The content of Proverbs, though necessarily pragmatic at times, is unabashedly optimistic, while Ecclesiastes is decidedly darker and more pessimistic when it is not being pragmatic. Proverbs is a textbook intended to instill wisdom within the heart of the reader and test for its presence, while Ecclesiastes is more like a retrospective collection of observations of life and its meaning viewed through the lens of that wisdom. Proverbs is addressed to the relatively young, while Ecclesiastes is addressed to the already wise that are more mature and experienced Proverbs looks forward while Ecclesiastes looks backward. The locale of Proverbs is that of the classroom where the teacher interacts with the students, while that of Ecclesiastes can be likened to the traditional american barbershop or the front porch of the general store where the wiser elders (John Eldredge's Sages) discuss the nature and meaning of life with each other, with the relatively younger ones on the sidelines strive to keep up as they listen. And while the Ancients did not make a fetish of consistency and structure as obsessive as that of the technological sector of our modern world, there is a structure of sorts to Proverbs while the layout of Ecclesiastes is more like that of a modern blog without the benefits of formatting to separate the entries. Comparing Ecclesiastes to a modern blog isn't that much of a stretch: Proverbs was written by a man with a goal in mind, while Ecclesiastes appears to be him kvetching about life.
The Major Themes
One may think that the major theme of the book is "all is vanity", but that is merely a catch-all label for the cumulative effects of the interactions of four different and distinct processes that serve as the true themes of the book. These themes/processes are Cyclicity, Profit, Justice, and Death. Though the Preacher does not label them as such (modern literary criticism being, after all, modern), I do so as an aid to my modern readers to facilitate the discussion.
What I call Cyclicity is the label for the phenomon that the Preacher observed of the seemingly infinite repetitiveness of existence, inferring from the cycles that exist in nature that human life also manifests a cyclic nature of sorts.
The Preacher himself used the word "profit" in 1:3 to generally describe benefits, increase, and earned wealth. The New Testament term "Fruit" would equally serve, but it is a noun while profit can be both a noun and a verb. I hope my readers do not regard the word I use with a neo-marxian attitude, since the theme of Profit embraces the idea of general progress as well. The parables of the talents and the pounds were given by Jesus to emphasize the fact that it is the divine expectation that one should end up with more than what one started with.
The theme called Justice includes the idea of legal justice, but also includes the concept of people getting what they work for and what they deserve. The concept of "righteousness" as applied to God includes the idea of Him rendering to everyone that which they deserve.
The last theme, Death, needs no special definition. However, it should be kept in mind that the view of Death under the Old Testament is different from that of the New Testament in several points because the Hebrew conception of it changed over time.
The Cause of Vanity
I want to emphasize that the key problem Solomon saw in life that made him label existence vanity is not any one of these themes, but the way that they mutually interacted that made existence vain.
Solomon's first complaint is that of the lack of ultimate profitablity: "What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?" (1:3) While he observes Cyclicity in nature, he notes that there is a lack of profitablity in it. The following is from Ecclesiastes 1:4-11, with my commentary in [bracketed italics]:
4 One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. [see v. 11 below] 5 The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. 6 The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. 7 All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full [no profit, no progress toward any discernable goal or sense of completion]; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. 8 All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing [just as the water flows into the sea, yet it is not full]. 9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. 10 Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. 11 There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after. [no lasting impact on the earth (v4), nor even on later generations.]
Solomon wisely observes in verse 11 that there is nothing special about the generation of which he happened to be a part, for just as his generation was ignorant of past generations, he expects his generation to not be remembered either by future generations. This observation is the implicit recognition of the concept of Justice, where he acknowledges that he will "suffer" from future generations that which he "inflicts" on previous ones. The theme of Death is implied in verses 4 and 11, for a living generation makes sure they are not ignored, but the imposition of silence caused by death allows the later generations to forget them. The "wise" charcters in the Disney movie "The Lion King" called this the Circle of Life, but only the production values kept all but the more wise ones in the audience from noticing the utter fuility of a cycle-called-a-circle that, at its foundation, is powered by Death.
The resentful reader may demand, "who is this who's talking?" Solomon responds in verses 12 to 18:
12 I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. 14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. 15 That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered. 16 I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. 17 And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. 18 For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
It would seem pointless to exalt wisdom and strive to teach it to others without the teacher actually applying it. The key question wisdom asks of anything is "why is this here?" Engineers strive to understand artificial systems and scientists natural ones by asking "why is this here?" as well. Rare is a system that stands by itself, and often the key to understanding why one exists is to step back and see the larger system of which it is inevitably a part. In 1 Kings 4:29-34, we are told that Solomon's wisdom and understanding embraced the small things of life, so it does not seem possible that he arbitrarily stopped there. He kept stepping back, and back, and back, embracing larger and even larger systems.
So what did The Preacher find? What he found was an endless cyclicity that didn't seem to go anywhere and that had no impact. That had no point or goal or conclusion or that ever got finished. It was that pointlessness that made existence vain.
My modern readers of a technological bent (and thus the true progressivists of these times, and of whom I count myself one of that number) would doubtless object to such a characterization of human existence as vain. After all, Solomon lived in a world where the pace of technological progress was so much slower than it is now that it would have been logical for him to "extrapolate" from his limited experience and see vanity in what looked like an existence in which human ability appeared to be forever limited.
While somewhat true, we shortchange Solomon by failing to "step back ourselves" and see the wider picture. For instance, unlike Solomon, engineers and scientists view Cyclicity in nature as a friend since such repetitiveness helps them catch nuances that their prior observations missed and helps them test hypotheses as to their underlying causality and functionality. Cyclicity is counted upon to allow engineers to harness the power of nature: I am not ignorant of the irony that I, a software engineer at a nuclear power plant, make a very good living working with my fellow engineers to ensure that a big hunk of specially contructed steel and copper reliably spins round and round, 30 times a second, with the express design intention of making sure it doesn't actually go anywhere, powered by a nuclear reactor whose radioactive contents are subject to the supreme design intention of making sure that none of that material goes anywhere without express permission and intention.
Unlike Solomon, I and my comrades don't anguish over the futility of such a job because we know that the cyclicity of the turbine/generator (that doesn't go anywhere) is actually making electrons go "somewhere". That is, over powerlines into homes, businesses, and factories that society tells us are making "stuff" that "goes somewhere" and "has a goal". Leastways, that is what our semi-capitalist society is telling us when they give Georgia Power money in exchange for those "moving" electrons, a share of which Georgia Power passes on to us for making those electrons move. (an aside: a "capitalist" society uses "unregulated" money flows as a way of informing people that what they do is important to others and to what extent. Other societies in the world despise the United States "capitalist" economy only because they themselves have their own ideas of who is and is not important, and so strive to regulate the flow of money to direct it to people they think are important. In all cases, money is used to convey importance and the degree of that importance.)
So in a way, shouldn't engineers be proud that we took what Solomon viewed as a futility and turned it into something truly useful to mankind? If that's not progress, when what is?
The problem Solomon saw that we engineers don't becomes more visible if we step back and look more closely at the real utility or purpose of what's going on in those places that use the electricity being made by our endlessly cycling hunk of metal. Solomon did, and concluded that the cyclicity, combined with death, happening in those "higher order activities" rendered them vain and futile, thus rendering everything upstream that supports and enables those activities vain and futile as well.
Much as I am truly proud of harnessing cyclicity to human service, I believe this assessment to be essentially true. "Technological progress", represented by the ever increasing ability to harness nature to do more of the work that human muscle and brains used to do has, as an end result and goal, the support of other human activities that do "have a purpose". It is a mere assumption to think that those activities are not vain in themselves.
Part of the problem is that Solomon and we moderns use the word "progress" in different ways. To be blunt, the vast majority of what is called "progress" today is composed of improvements in enabling technologies rather than unique creations. In Ecclesiastes 2, Solomon engaged in huge building programs. He built the Temple and his own Palace. When Solomon stepped back and looked at what he had done, he realized it was all vain (v11). Why? Because the guy who comes afterwards is just going to do the same thing. From the time of Nimrod, to the Pharaohs, to Solomon, to men like Donald Trump today, to the wealthy and great men who will appear tomorrow, have all tried to make an immortal mark in the world by building stuff. Yes, the stuff may be built differently, built bigger, built better, and built quicker thanks to progress in technology (i.e. thanks to us scientists and engineers), but the whole point of men building the stuff is to outdo those who came before them. Solomon was smart enough to realize that, after he died, the guy who comes after him will outdo him. More depressingly, Solomon realized that the guy who comes after him who doesn't outdo him can't because he might be more stupid, and thus not appreciate what he, Solomon, had made or done (V17-22). If the purpose of the electricity I am helping make is to power the technology that enables the wealthy wanna-be to outdo those who came before them, then my effort and purpose in life will be equally vain since that wealthy wanna-be will be replaced, after he dies, with another wealthy wanna-be whose only claim to fame will be that he outdid my era's wealthy wanna-be's achievements using the better technology that my technological descendants will come up with. Indeed, my purpose is even more vain because the electricity I am producing now is doubtless going into the research laboratories and homes of the inventors to create the techology that will eventually eclipse mine, while my wealthy wanna-be is not contributing in any substantial way to this enabling of his future wealthy wanna-be to show him up. It appears that I myself am the real sucker in this whole cycle of vanity by contributing directly to those whose future significance will eclipse mine, causing me and my achievements to be forgotten as effectively as that of my era's wealthy wanna-be. "So why then have I been so very wise?"
The joker in this "build to make a name for ourselves" card game of life is Death. It may appear that a person's life is linear and not cyclic, but Solomon's wisdom discerned that a man's life is but a single turn of a much larger cycle that is powered by birth and death. If there was no death, then life for the wealthy wanna-bes would consist of a perpetual cycle of either trying to outdo each other in the building of memorable works, or killing each other like thugs conducting drug wars to protect their turf and market share in the minds of later generations. That is, if a never-dying Nimrod ever decided to allow the Pharaohs, Solomon, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Stalin, or Hitler to get big enough to show him up. Like the Pharaoh who commanded the Hebrew baby boys to be chucked into the Nile, someone would eventually gain power who would rigorously institute the policy of "Nobody gets a free shot to take my gig away from me!" It was to forstall this situation that God ejected Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden and barred the way to the tree of life that would allow sinners to live forever.
In Ecclesiastes 2:16, Solomon makes two observation. The first is that death is the reason why the accomplishments of men are forgotten. The second is that death is a great leveller, in that both the wise and the fool suffer the same fate.
In Ecclesiastes 3:18-21, Solomon makes the following grim observation:
18 I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts. 19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. 20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21 Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?
"Who knoweth?" indeed! Here is Ecclesiastes 9:2-6:
2 All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath. 3 This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead. 4 For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.
There are denominations that base their doctrines on the state of the dead based this passage, but it is merely an admission of the observable facts of death from this side of death. The reason for King Saul's death was that he inquired of the dead by way of the witch of Endor (1 Chronicles 10:13-14). David observed that the living go to the place of death, but none return from there (2 Samuel 12:14-23).
Finding the Limits of Wisdom
It is here that Solomon, and we, discover the limits of wisdom: wisdom correctly processes only the knowledge that the wise one knows.
Those familiar with the use of computers and computer programming know this as the "GIGO" principle: garbage in, garbage out. For instance, there is no doubt that the browser you are using to read this page has bugs, but the fact that you are reading this page right now means that those bugs were not serious enough to prevent this page from being called up and rendered properly. However, if you entered "http://www.logotech.erg" rather than "http://www.logotech.org", then the browser will not render anything (at least, as of August, 2009). Only a willful fool would insist that the browser code itself was at fault for an inability to "properly" render a mis-typed URL. Only a willful fool would fault a wise man for a misdeduction based on lies fed to him. And only a wicked fool faults a wise man for not drawing a proper conclusion when the basic facts are unknown or inadequate. The fool faults the wise because, being themselves a fool, they have no first hand experience with the exercise of wisdom and what is required for it to yield results. Such would jeer at a bushman for not being able to drive a car or not knowing that it needs gasoline to run, blind to the fact that, if their roles were reversed, they would be equally beknighted.
An incident at the start of Solomon's reign probably set the stage for the confusion arising from the belief that "all that one needs is wisdom." This is the incident of the two harlots and the baby, recorded in 1 Kings 3:16-28:
16 Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him. 17 And the one woman said, O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house. 18 And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house. 19 And this woman's child died in the night; because she overlaid it. 20 And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. 21 And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but when I had considered it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, which I did bear. 22 And the other woman said, Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son. And this said, No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son. Thus they spake before the king. 23 Then said the king, The one saith, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead: and the other saith, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living. 24 And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king. 25 And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other. 26 Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it. 27 Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof. 28 And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.
We need to see what Solomon actually did: he understood, in verse 23, that the statements were contradictory, but discerned that one of the women had to be telling the truth and the other lying. However, he did not discern directly which one was actually telling the truth. We skip so quickly to the fact that Solomon actually uncovered the truth that we fail to see that what he actually did was set up a situation where the truth could be identified. In other words, Solomon did not use his wisdom to discern the truth, but used his wisdom to devise and set up an experiment, used his power and authority as king to threaten to conduct it, and deduced the truth from the ensuing statements of the harlots from their reaction, not to the baby himself or to being in a court of law, but to the experiment itself. One would be tempted to believe this to be a thought experiment, but Solomon's statement in verse 27 not to slay it implies that the experiment was in the process of being carried out. Certainly, the lying harlot's statement in verse 26 would not have been wrenched from her lips if she believed that the king was bluffing.
The peak of wisdom is to know that which one does not know. Wisdom is necessarily founded upon humility, which is that virtue that allows a man to admit their lack without regard to pride or the hunger for the praise of men. The best way to discern a fool in an argument is to see his reaction to his opponent's honest admission of ignorance. It may be a bit much to say that one who has the potential for wisdom would agree with the content of this very paragraph, while the fool would dismiss it.
But I doubt it.
The Problem of Death
Today's secular materialism denies the existence of anything other than the observable, and so their conclusion logically agrees with that of Solomon's observations in Ecclesiastes 3:18-21: there is no difference between men and beasts. This logic gets carried out to its inevitable conclusions, as shown by the callousness which modern unregenerate man treats his fellow man: as I write, President Obama has proposed the appointment of committees to determine if continued care should be given to the ill as a means to control the costs of national health care. And murderous dictators are coddled because it is known that living dogs are a threat because they can bite back while dead lions are safe because they do not. After all, because the dead are dead they are not a threat anymore, so it is safe to forget them.
What experiment can be devised to figure out what happens after death? Solomon definitely declined to devise and conduct one because there were numerous laws forbidding consulting with those who had familiar spirits (Leviticus 19:31, Leviticus 20:6, Leviticus 20:27, and Deuteronomy 18:9-14). The death of Saul, the first king of Israel, was explicitly stated to be due to his inquiring of the dead (1 Chronicles 10:13-14). It is said that the magician Harry Houdini was obsessed with the finality of death, and used his skill as an illusionist to unmask fake mediums. He set up a test with his wife that would permit the question to be settled once and for all, but no one unconnected with his wife ever met the challenge.
Aware of the bleak nature of existence as he viewed it, Solomon nevertheless gave some advice on how to address the problem of the futility of living in the shadow of death. They center around acknowledging the similarities between man and animal while emphasizing the differences.
The two similarities are that we eat and drink like animals (2:24, 3:13, 3:22, 5:18-19, and 9:7), with the proviso that animals eat and drink because they have to, while men can enjoy eating and drinking. Doubtless we have seen videos of herd animals stepping around a pride of lions without any fear because the lions are well fed. In contrast, an inability to stop eating because of the pleasure it gives is the sin of gluttony. And if eating can be stretched to include anything that is external being taken into the body, then the use of drugs and excessive alcohol is a symptom of eating being taken too far.
While both animals and men build things, such as nests, men differ from animals because the latter build nests because they need them, while men enjoy their works, both in the end product and in the process of construction. These works go way beyond the necessity of building shelter, but extend to creative works as well. Men enjoy building stuff and showing it off so much that it is called pride when it goes too far. The verses given previously include Solomon's advice to enjoy the work of one's hands.
A difference Solomon saw between men and animals that is unique to man is that man is aware of God and that he will be judged by God (3:16-17, 11:9, 12:1, and 12:13-14). The passage from Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 is worth citing here:
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
It was doubtless this emphasis on God's judgment that kept Solomon from pursuing methodologies forbidden in the Law of Moses to discern what lay beyond death. He also did not extrapolate from his belief in the necessity of God judging men to the necessity that those men had to be conscious after death to be properly judged, because he knew had no firm foundation for believing in a bodily resurrection. The very first resuscitation of the world would not happen until Elijah came on the scene, and it was of the son of a non-Israelite widow convinced that he died because Elijah's presence rendered judgment on him because of her sinfulness. If that had happened on Solomon's shift, the color of Ecclesiastes would certainly have been far brighter than it is. As it is, it would be unduly harsh to judge Ecclesiastes, and Solomon, for not factoring in the world-shaking significance of an event that was yet future.
The Problem of Dealing with Death
Once the lack of credible and actionable information about the other side of death is acknowledged, the wise thing to do is back up and figure out solutions to allied problems. The quest shifts from solving the real problem to mitigating the symptoms. The problem shifts from man conquering death to man learning to cope with it.
Societies and civilizations can be classified by how they handle death, and the social and religious structures built around that belief. Much of it is pure speculation founded upon wishful thinking springing from the natural distaste of man to "give up" since coping with death rather than conquering it seems like a retreat and a cop-out. For instance, the IMAX film Mysteries of Egypt, narrated by Omar Sharif, has the actor quite frankly stating that the Egyptian system was founded on an extreme love of life that wishfully desired that it continue in the next life in the same way. Thus, in the absence of actionable information, the Egyptians did what scientists do today in the face of equal ignorance: flat-line extrapolation from what we know to what we don't know. Despite Numerical Analysts telling us that this kind of extrapolation is very rarely correct, we still do it because the present is comfortable and we want it to continue without interruption. "Change" is disliked because it violates this desire of comfortable familiarity.
Others believe that man is confined only to this world and cannot escape it, so they postulate reincarnation. In a sop to Solomon's observation regarding the futility of cycles, of which reincarnation is obviously one, Hinduism holds out the prospect of promotion in the form of reincarnating as a higher animal or a more socially privileged person in the next life as a consolation prize contingent on good behavior in this life (with "good behavior" being defined as not rocking the "caste system" boat for starters). While this is a definite improvement on the extrapolation process from the known to the unknown, in the same way that Fourier Analysis is better than Euler-class straight-line extrapolation, it is based on wishful thinking combined with an eye toward securing the condition of the upper classes in this life. Bhuddism rejected this patent materialism and social-engineering style manipulation, but only substitutes personal progress toward spiritual enlightenment as the engine to eventually escape the cycle of futility that is reincarnation, continuing the privileging of the rich, the well-off, and the blatant spongers by their having (or begging from others) the time and resources to perform the necessary spiritual exercises. The treatment of those exploited by the spongers is particularly noisome, since there is nothing in Bhuddism that rewards those supporting those striving for enlightenment. (Contrast with Christianity, where Jesus promises a reward to whose who give as little as a cup of cold water to one of his followers.)
Shintoism addressed the issue of death by emphasizing the importance of the family. The emphasis on honorable behavior that later got extended to the Emperor and the Nation originally came from the need to maintain connectivity with one's departed Ancestors so that they could aid the members of the family currently living. This honorable behavior is the essential link to the process since it ensure that the living, when they die, would take seriously their duty to remain in solidarity with the family, join the Ancestral pantheon, and work to keep the family going by aiding their descendants. The idea is that the dead continue as full family members, carrying out their familial duties and obligations with the same scrupulousness and seriousness that they showed to the family while alive. The behavior of Mulan's ancestors depicted in the Disney movie of the same name is, for once, surprisingly close to the truth. Though this was not the foundation for the Roman Catholic veneration of the Saints, the core principle that those who have lived continue to aid us from the other side of death implies the promise of surviving death, since those who vanish instead of live on cannot obviously be of any help to the living.
The attitude toward death in Roman and Greek society was in constant flux as their philosophers debated the issue. This is of more immediate import to us Westerners since many of us live within two broad streams that come from these two cultures.
One stream is strictly Greco-Roman, and is partly revealed in movies such as "Gladiator" and "Troy". In "Troy", the Gods honor those who live a virtuous and notable life. In "Gladiator", existence after death is acknowledged as doubtful, but is hoped for. Good, virtuous, and honorable behavior consisted, for Maximus, in assuming that his dead family was indeed alive in the other world, but deserved justice that required that he survive to exact vengeance against their murderer. In other words, the Greeks and Romans did not as much solve the problem of death so much as they came up with a philosophy of death that helped those still living live virtuous lives.
The problem with the pure Greco-Roman solution was the "greco" part: the Greek soul was constantly re-asking the same questions differently and re-looking at the proposed solutions. For their part, the Romans would have preferred to have settled matters once and for all and moved on to the next problem, but the situation between Latin and Greek cultures is the same as between American and European cultures: the former always felt insecure about being seen as "sophisticated" and always deferred to the opinions of the latter, whose main skill is being able to put up a good show of that "sophistication". The constant re-examination eventually led to the same emotional dead-end that Solomon ran into: the mood of the ancient world eventually devolved into a state of courageous despair that is best described by G.K. Chesterton in chapter 8 of his book "The Everlasting Man".
Those in our culture today that are part of that Greco-Roman stream either live courageous lives that ignore the problem of death until it is forced on them, or those who have given in to the dark logic of the ultimate futility of life. The latter are best illustrated by the attitude of the Emo sub-culture who have so bought into the ultimate futility of life that the fall of an eraser onto the floor is seen as a profound statement of life's futility. I am not kidding, for there is a youtube video I cannot locate of an Emo girl describing how she felt witnessing the fall of an eraser to the floor in her class room. The former are best illustrated by those who, though they have no viable alternative to the problem of death, physically persecute, or call for the physical persecution and death, of emos. Their view of life is to be courageous, face up to the difficulties of life, and live it to the best of one's abilities. To these, the emos are betrayers of the spark of life and thus do not deserve to continue to hold it.
A small sub-group in our culture whose influence is greater than their numbers deserve that suscribe to the pure Greco-Roman stream are the secular materialists. While one may question their honesty and fairness when debating their opponents, one has to admire the fact that they corageously stare into the darkness of death and attempt to live a productive and optimistic life in the face of the unknown. They take Solomon's advice to enjoy the works of their hands quite literally. (An aside: their popularity is due to their claim that all the benefits of modern life arose from a methodology that not only does not factor God into the process, but that such a process has not discovered any entity called God so far. However, the scientific method suffers from two fatal flaws. The first flaw was noted by C.S. Lewis, who observed that the scientific method is often applied to extremely delimited and denuded physical phenomena. It is reductionistic in a very real sense in that it narrows (reduces) its observations of an extremely complicated and interrelated nature to those problems that are easy to solve, solves them, then attempts to back out the solution to apply to the wider range of phenomena, handwaving away contradictions and problems by stating that their simple solution is the true picture of realtiy "in principle". This problem arises from the second flaw in which they assume independence of natural phenomena rather than their interdependence. There are synergistic effects arising from inter-dependence that are severed when the scientists "focusses in" to the problem, and which are hand-waved away when those effects kick back in when the scientists "back out" to consider the larger setting. An example of this is symbiosis: the combination of algae and lichen suddenly aquires an incredible degree of survivability that would not be predictable if each of the parts is considered separately.)
The other stream is Xeno-Greco-Roman. Those of this stream embrace the core elements of Greco-Roman culture, but rejected the "not invented here" mindset of those cultures' religion. These Greco-Romans were disgusted with the reluctance of the Greco-Roman gods to be concerned with the fate of mortal men, arguing that the Latin virtue of Loyalty, if demanded by the Gods, should be rewarded by a reciprocating loyalty. These elected to embrace non-Greek and Non-Roman ("Xeno") religions that promised to "deliver the goods" to the faithful. Many embraced the cult of the Egyptian Goddess Isis who re-assembled the body of her husband Osiris after being hacked to pieces by their wicked son Set and resurrected him. Others embraced the cults of Mithras and Dionysius, participatiung in re-enactments of their Death and Resurrection to live a new life devoted to sensuous living.
A "Xeno" substream of incredible importance was Judaism: while the Greeks distained the Jews as religious hicks, the Romans were incredibly impressed with the high moral code of the Jews and the God who not only mandated it, but also appeared to live by it as well! And slaves of all cultures were equally impressed with the radical eglatarianism that the Jews practiced in their synagogues and daily life, in stark contrast to the Greek belief that slaves were inferior and sub-human by nature and not by circumstance. The social strata from which the centurion officer corps were drawn were those most influenced and impressed by Judaism, while considerations of power, pride, and social status kept those of higher social class from taking it seriously.
Despite the influence of the secular materialists, members of the Xeno-Greco-Roman stream are the most numerous in Western civilization. However, when viewed from the point of view of religion, it is extremely fragmented because of the many "xeno" sources from which the members have drawn their beliefs and practices. Many embrace Bhuddism, attracted by the idea of spirituality being a progressive journey and the benefits of certain physical exercises to quiet and calm the mind. Others, such as Wiccans and eco-Gaians, actively draw from shamanistic, most notably Druidic, sources that embrace the notion that men are merely more spiritually advanced animals who would find fulfillment by embracing their proper role in the eco-system of the world: Movies such as "Pocahontas" and "The Lion King" illustrate this stream. Significance, to these people, consists of living in harmony with nature and "keeping it going", so to speak, with nature being the most significant thing around. Others openly embrace satanism and its demonstrated ability to "deliver the goods" for those willing to pay the price.
Then there is the Judaeo-Christian stream of Greco-Roman civilization. Quite clearly, the significance of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, with the resulting message of the hope of resurrection for those who believe in his deity that was proclaimed with obvious signs and wonders by crude and un-educated men literally turned the world upside-down. I leave the detailing of that impact to G.K. Chesterton, who outlined it in the second section of his "The Everlasting Man". What Christianity brought to the table was not merely a way of handling the issue of living in the shadow of death. Christianity dared to re-open and re-address the original problem of death with an eye to solving it. Judaism at that time was actually divided on the issue of life after death: the Sadducees objected to the concept based on the lack of a clear declaration of scripture, while the Pharisees believed it but couldn't prove it. In disposing of the Sadducees' seven-brothers-one-wife-resurrection thought experiment, Jesus casually delivered the death blow to their belief system and came down squarely on the side of the Pharisees and the Ressurrection when he noted that God had named himself "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" to Moses, and pithily observed that "God is not the God of the Dead, but of the Living, for all live to him." (Luke 20:27-38) Either God was the God of the living, and there was a resurrection, but the alternative was to turn him into an Egyptian-style God of the Dead.
The Issue of Significance
I beg my reader's indulgence for covering these various streams within Western Civilization, making an already long essay longer, as well as running the danger of making it more tedious because of the pessimistic, depressing nature of the subject matter. However, it is the very pessimisim and despair inherent within our current civilization that I want to highlight.
At the same time, I feel my inadequacy to accurately describe the actual feelings of smallness and helplessness that flood in at the lonely times of life to those who either do not sense the huge weight of a vast, empty, and uncaring universe, or who have successfully integrated the eternal significance of the Resurrection into their thinking. How do I describe feeling like an immature rabbit torn from its burrow and placed in the middle of a vast desert without cover in the middle of the night, unable to do anything more than pull its body inwards into the smallest ball possible, remain immobile from the uncertainty of what to do or where to flee, and just shiver?
I do not write the above based on a very old memory, for although such feelings were always my lot, and struck very hard on Sunday nights all through College and Graduate school, it was a rare month when I did not suffer from only two such "deep blues attacks", for my most recent was July 19, when I was led to read Ecclesiastes. My reluctance to read it was due to the real concern that doing so would only make the dark feelings even darker.
At this point, I shall make a confession: my focus for Suppression and Variance Management was to control my compulsions so that I would just stop sinning. Despite having written the section in "The Symbiotic Refinery" about the ability of the Spirit to control one's mental climate, I confess that I accepted it like a nice, but strictly coincidental, side-effect of getting one's sinful thoughts under control. The "Sunday night blues attacks" had continued, but no mental alarms had been raised because, while unpleasant, they were not sinful. What was sinful was the use of online porn to divert my mind from the pressing weight of an overwhelming, uncaring, and unfeeling universe. In my mind, I believed that the Spirit had reasonable incentive to help me suppress any compulsions that led me to deal with the "sunday night blues attacks" in an inappropriate way. Addressing the blues attacks themselves simply did not enter my mind.
However, since July 19, I have not felt the "sunday night blues attacks" in two months! In my experience, this is extraordinary! The solution was not to apply Suppression and Variance Management to them because they were not sinful thoughts that had to be suppressed. It was not that the Spirit was unable to suppress them, which would imply a limit on His power. It was also not that the Spirit was unwilling to suppress them, which would inpugn the divine Goodness. Rather, the Spirit was using them to provoke me into a search for the truth, which is entirely consistent with His job of leading us unto all truth. These attacks arose because I was embracing an incorrect set of thoughts and beliefs that had to be replaced with a correct set of thoughts and beliefs if they were to disappear.
The "Right" Cure for the Problem
This underscores a very important behavioral factor when dealing with the Holy Spirit: He would rather attack and resolve root causes rather than treat symptoms that would disappear by themselves once the root causes are properly addressed.
As part of my research for Manipulation, I have been reading John Crowder's book "Miracle Workers, Reformers, and the New Mystics". It is a compilation and analysis, from the first century to the late 1950's, of the phenomenon of miracle workers, mystics, and faith healers. It is a compelling work that effectively refutes the belief that miracles actually ceased. I warn you, the website is quite "wild", and the claims made by Mr. Crowder are equally "wild", but his history of post-first century Church mystics and miracle workers seems quite solidly done, even if one questions his conclusions and predictions. What I found significant was his claim that the effectiveness of the Jesus Freak movement was due to individuals experiencing what the ancient mystics would have called the bliss of seeing the Beautific Vision. He cited the testimony of converts experiencing "highs" immediately after conversion, and even before conversion, that were caused by the Holy Spirit. He cites testimonies of these "highs" being regularly reproduced after bible reading or long periods of prayer. Despite being an enthusiast, Mr. Crowder dutifully documents the failings of the leaders of the Jesus Freak movement, most notably that of Lonnie Frisbee, who died of AIDS contracted from homosexual activity. Indeed, his entire book is a record of how entire revivials sparked by miracle workers failed for various reasons, including personal sin.
Assuming that Mr. Crowder's book is factually and historically true, it is obvious that these experiences of what he, and the ancient Christian mystics, call "the bliss of God" can be explained symbiotically. Rather than suppressing the compulsions of physical addictions in some people, The Holy Spirit elected to massively stimulate their brains to emulate the drug highs they were reporting. In a way, this is not treating the addiction as much as changing the type of "high inducer" being used. My belief is that this was a grace granted by God to them, and would fall under Manipulation rather than Suppression. This also explains many of the failures that arose because of personal sin in one's life. Despite coming from the same Spirit of God, suppression requires a different mix of protocols and methodologies than what appears to be required for Manipulation, so it should be no surprise that what works in one area of one's spiritual life doesn't work in others. Paul's famous thorn in the flesh was self-identified as a "messenger of satan", and many make much of the fact that he got no relief when he prayed to God about it when they talk about the (non)effectiveness of prayer. However, those skilled in the practice of casting out demons would be the first to tell you that casting out a demon requires that it be confronted, addressed directly and personally, and verbally evicted. This methodology is repeated so often in the Gospels that it is a wonder that Paul didn't "get it". To be sure, the occasional extra powerful demon may need advance preparation such as fasting and prayer, such as Jesus practiced before exorcising the demon from the boy that the disciples failed to exorcise. What is important to see is that the actual exorcism itself was conducted in the usual manner, which is why the disciples were confused as to why they couldn't cast the demon out.
When we look down on the disciples because of this failure, we fail to appreciate what they did to handle that failure. When they saw Jesus doing the same thing they did, but getting different results, they didn't throw their hands up and ascribe the difference to God's inscrutiable will or a special bestowal of favor upon Jesus. Instead, they figured that there had to be some factor that they were not aware of that made the difference, and asked Jesus what that difference was. One of the core capabilities of this stage, Illumination, is to augment "debugger mode" to facilitate this problem discovery and reolution process but with the Holy Spirit taking the place of Jesus. (I use computer programming terminology. Engineers in the field would call this process "troubleshooting". Same process, different terms, same solution, same augment.)
Running Debugger Mode
This is my situation with the "Sunday night blues attacks". On July 19, while I was fighting it mentally by invoking Suppression and wondering how to spin it as a sin to extract some cooperation from the Spirit, I began to worry about how feeling the blues would affect my behavior Monday morning. After all, as I documented in "The Symbiotic Refinery", the Spirit generates and maintains my cheerful, peaceful attitude that had been helping me tolerate what would have driven me to anger and a deep cynicism at work. Indeed, so happy was I appearing that I worred that my management would think, "If Gerald is looking happy and content, then we surely are doing things right!" when the fact of the matter was that things were going to hell in a handbasket at what looked like an exponential rate.
Then it hit me: I had ALWAYS been feeling the "deep blues" on Sundays, but since April or May of 2006, I'd be hopping out of bed feeling super chipper and ready to tackle the day with the Spirit's help. The only times that were different were later diagnosed as personal "dark nights of the soul", whose symptoms were markedly different from the "Sunday night blues attacks" even though they were experienced during Sunday nights.
So what, exactly, was different now between Sunday nights and Monday mornings?
Obviously, I didn't know, so I did what I hope my readers will learn to do: I switched from trying to invoke Suppression to get the Spirit to stop me from feeling a feeling, to invoking Illumination to get the Spirit to lead me to an understanding of the situation.
In other words, I invoked Debugger mode.
I asked Him mentally, "Why am I experiencing these horrid and dark feelings of insignificance and helplessness on Sunday nights?"
He answered with the following thought: "WHY should you feel horribly insignificant and helpless if you are asking ME this question?"
It is said that a person cannot truly feel two feelings at the same time. One way to replace a feeling is therefore to replace it with another feeling.
At that moment, I stopped feeling blue, insigificant, small, and helpless.
And started feeling very stupid.
What I had failed to do was to mentally integrate a key implication of Symbiotic Christianity. I had gotten so caught up in the excitement of the stuff that the Spirit was doing in me and in others that I had ignored the full implications of being symbiotically joined to God. Like too many others, I was so caught up in the manifestations of God that I had failed to appreciate the implications of the very presence of God within. The attention was on the goodies God gave rather than the God who gave them. Think of a greedy husband concentrating on the extra money his wife was bringing in to the family, but failing to appreciate her feelings and motivations that drove her to take a job in the first place.
This is not to say that I had not considered the issue, for I had made a few stabs in that direction. For example, I did do some deep thinking about the implications of the Holy Spirit residing within us forever, but it was the theological implications of the "forever" aspect that had absorbed my attention. I had not ever evaluated the "residing" aspect.
So what aspect of Symbiotic Christianity had I grasped on July 19 that ended my "sunday night blues attacks"?
I had begun to appreciate the personal implications of Unification.
Owning an Empty Universe
Being God and able to forsee the future, the Holy Spirit had started to lay the groundwork for the solution long before I felt the need. This year (2009) my church put on its best Easter production ever. At the beginning of it was slide presentation of Nature scenes interspersed with pictures of the Church members and our brothers and sisters at Wanyanga United Methodist in Uganda. I suppose what hit me the hardest during that part was seeing a picture of Ken and Kristie Fuqua: Ken had left Plant Hatch for South Texas Project, and I was beginning to miss him and our times together. The music accompanying the multimedia presentation was Rich Mullins' "The Color Green", a moving comtemplation of the glories of God's world. I captured the song off of Youtube using Audacity and put it on my MP3 player along with all the Techno, Trance, and Dance tunes I was accumulating and found spiritually illuminating. This proved providential: I have written before of how the Holy Spirit speaks through music, and an essay in this Stage will more fully explain how it works, but at the time I was not thinking that I was "setting" myself up for the Spirit to speak.
I don't know the precise date when the Spirit "sprung the trap" that laid the seed in my mind for the insight I got on July 19, but I definitely know where it was sprung: the pet food and paper products asile in the Vidalia Harvey's supermarket. I was listening to my MP3 player on "shuffle", and it shuffled to "The Color Green" after I picked up some cans of cat food. I recall having felt while listening to the music before that I "ought" to feel awed at God's creation, and felt that the lack of such a feeling was a flaw in my makeup that needed fixing. I certainly never felt anything like this while singing "This is my Father's House".
But this time, while listening to the line about waking up "in the house of God", I distinctly felt pride.
Now this was not the pride that comes from finishing a job well, or the spiritual vice of pride that thinks "I am pretty good!" when it is God who did the good act through me. No, this was the very distinct feeling of pride that a kid feels when he and his friends walk by the gigantic factory where all their fathers work, and he truthfully boasts "My dad owns this factory!"
It was on July 19 that I realized, "I have the Holy Spirit in me. This is the same God who made the universe, and He is forever joined to me! This huge empty universe is His. And mine too, by right of sonship!"
This is the realization, the implication, that I had to accept that fixed the core problem that produced the "I am so small" thoughts. The "Sunday night blues attacks" have not returned. Occasionally, I will feel it raise its head, but it retreats when I recall Who it is who chose to dwell within me forever out of His love for me.
There is a mini-parable embedded in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) that people fail to appreciate in their haste to condemn the Elder brother. The Elder brother, bless his heart, was equally ignorant of who he was and of the kind of Father he had. His main complaint was a perceived lack of fairness on the part of the Father: despite the Prodigal wasting a third of the family estate in loose living, the Father killed the fatted calf to throw a huge party to celebrate his return, while "you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends." He was essentially saying "You reward someone who gored you out of a third of your property and blatantly disobeyed you and made a mockery of your morality with a party fueled by the fatted calf, while not wanting to spare, out of your VAST ESTATE, a little kid to reward the one who was faithful to you and worked to repair the damage this son of yours did to us, you blind, stingy, callous old man!"
The words of the Father did not as much ignore the accusation as much as it clarified the flaw in the thinking of his oldest son: "My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours." The problem the Elder Brother had was that he failed to truly own his Father's sonship: if the Father had given the Prodigal a third of the family estate, then how had the Elder Brother come to the belief that the Father would balk at his request of a small kid, some loaves of bread, and a jar of wine? As James put it in his letter, "You have not because you ask not".
Those of us in whom the Spirit of God resides forever should no longer look up into the sky and feel so small, insiginificant, and finite in the face of such a vast and empty universe. We have not been dumped in the middle of a desert with no cover under an endless sky like shivering teen rabbits, but are children who have been plopped into the middle of a huge room in a vast mansion and are crying for our parents. What we need to hear and understand are the words that our crying is drowning out, "This is but one room in the vast house of your Father. It is your playroom. What do you want to put in it?" It is only when you let those words sink into your understanding that the room that formerly caused terror now provokes excitement as you begin to see, in your mind's eye, how much good stuff could go into this, your room, in Your Father's House, powered by the authority he gave you!
However, before you go hog-wild in what passes for the Fao Schwartz of this universe on Your Father's Mastercard (the one with the non-existent credit limit), you need to factor in the Joker in the Christian deck of life's cards.
What? There's a JOKER in OUR Deck?!?!
Those of my readers who have been paying attention may be puzzled. You recall that I have mentioned earlier in this essay that the Joker in the Ecclesiastes deck of cards that threw a monkey-wrench into Solomon's life of building memorable works is death. I outlined how death messed up Solomon's ability to enjoy an endless significance in the eyes of the generations that followed, and how it equally applies to all such wanna-bes of greater wealth and power who came after him. Thus, you may be wondering how death, which has lost its sting in the face of the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, could possibly be a Joker.
Well, YES. Death still is a Joker, and a pretty impressive one at that.
However, I wasn't talking about OUR death.
I was referring to the death of Heaven and Earth.
2000 Years Left
I hope that my readers do not believe that I have been caught up in the growing preoccupation with the year 2012, when the Mayan calendar "rolls over", and it is my prayer that you are not troubled by it either. There were facinations and speculations, bordering on fanaticism, when the year 1000 came around. The panic about the year 2000 had a techological basis, but nothing of spiritual note transpired either. One has to grow up within the Seventh Day Adventist church (born out of a similar fanaticism regarding the year 1844) to get a healthy skepticism of any form of date setting: Been there, done that, don't wanna go there again.
At the same time, a wise person should take note of "the signs of the times". There is a definite driving by God of world affairs toward a specific event in history: the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This is a teaching that is found throughout the New Testament, and it is foolish to ignore it. While there is a considerable amount of debate as to whether the raising up of the dead saints and the transformation of the living saints at the coming of Jesus Christ is "pre-trib", "post-trib", or "mid-trib", or whether the tribulation is delayed by a couple of generations after the rapture, or whether there really will be a Millenium at all, it seems clear to me that the most liberal time estimate between a postulated pre-trib rapture and the end of the Millenium would be a generous 1200 years.
At the same time, one has to wonder about the direction the world is taking in recent years. Those of us who appreciate that the Holy Spirit brings liberty should be concerned about the trends taking place in the world and in the United States. Regardless of what my liberal or non-american readers believe of the current United States and its policies, I invite them, after having attained to some measure of skill in Illumination, to ask of the Holy Spirit whether the Godhead was supporting those who fought for American independence and worked with them afterwards to set up the American Republic. I don't know about you, but I got a "puzzled" reaction and a rather wry "Why, of COURSE we were!" as a response. God has not changed. He was, and remains, the God of Exodus. We may lament the condition of Israel during the period recorded in the book of Judges, but the cycles were always those of times of living in freedom and liberty that was lost when that freedom was abused to pursue sin, leading to conquest, oppression, and slavery. Upon repentance, God raised a Judge that would lead the people to rebellion and back to liberty. The God of Exodus is a Liberator first, then a Law-Giver, who becomes a Protector whereever His Law was obeyed and His previous acts of liberation are remembered and used to invoke His aid to meet the current crisis.
It was C.S. Lewis, in "The Abolition of Man", who warned of the degrading effects of man dominating man through a domination of nature, which he illustrated in a more graphic form in his Science-fiction novel "That Hideous Strength". I agree with him that the next Dark Ages will be much darker thanks to the misuse of modern science. Communists and Nazis killed more people in the 20th century than the Crusades did thanks to advanced technology. Combine this with Mr. Wilder's observation, and the prospects are rather bleak for liberty and freedom, especially in view of the current (2009) American Administration that called the legal removal of a dictator-wannabe in Honduras by order of that Nation's Supreme Court and National Assembly a "military coup"!
It is my personal belief that world conditions will lead to a situation where liberty, especially that of religion, will be lost. Unless God intervenes, I liberally place this happening in the next two centuries and conservatively within the next eight. Thus, based on these estimates, it is my personal belief that the events that start in Revelation 21, when the old heaven and old earth pass away, to be replaced by a New Heaven and a New Earth, is about 2000 years in the future.
So, before we Symbiotic Christians start building monuments using Manipulation that we conceive using Illumination, we should be aware of the fact that in 2 millenia, they will be gone. While two millenia is a good run for normal people and tyrants, for us who are joined to the Eternally Divine in the most intimate way possible, this is a couple of days in the eternal lifespan of Deus. This is like being invited to furnish our playroom to our wildest imaginations, but with the reminder that the Family plans to tear the entire mansion down and rebuild it, bigger and better, in the next couple of months, so we should not get our hearts set on it too much. That's the price eternal beings in-the-flesh have to pay.
This message helped me overcome the "empty universe blues" that now rages like a pandemic among those youth in the emo sub-culture whose perception exceeds that of their mates in their generation. In hearing this message, they will hear the message of a God who loves them, who died for them, and who wants to reside in their hearts, making them forever a part of a Family that owns the empty universe, giving them the power to transform vast expanses of emptiness into places of opportunity and promise.
However, the Scriptures are quite plain that this present Heaven and Earth will disappear, to be replaced by a New Heaven and a New Earth. While building good stuff will prove a joy and a pleasure, we must take personally the warning we pass on to these kids that we got from Solomon's Ecclesiastes: a life building and getting stuff is temporarily pleasurable but ultimately futile because it will all eventually disappear when God makes all things new.
What counts is people, not things.
For only the Divine, and those who are joined with it, will survive that remaking.
May the wise children of Deus among us take this counsel to heart and plan their investments of time and effort wisely!
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