What Solomon Didn’t Know

The name “Solomon” is often viewed as synonymous with wisdom. The Hebrew Scriptures note that dignitaries visited ancient Israel’s king to confirm the accuracy of his reputation.

In one account, the Queen of Sheba (possibly modern Yemen) visits Jerusalem. After what we would today call a meeting of heads of state, she notes, “It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom. However I did not believe the words until I came and saw with my own eyes” (1 Kings 10:6–7).

The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are collections of his wise advice that remain at hand.

The Source of Wisdom

Solomon and those around him recognized God as the source of his wisdom (1 Kings 3:5–12, 28). Yet for all that God gave Solomon to understand, He did not give him a complete sense of His overall plan for humanity. While the king fully acknowledged God’s presence, power and centrality, he remained confused by the question of human purpose; he did not understand the eternal nature of God’s deeper intent for human existence. So although Solomon’s teachings give great guidance in terms of healthy human relationships—at the core of which is a proper understanding of God’s sovereignty over creation and man (for example, Proverbs 1:7; 2:6), they are silent concerning the need for a reconciliation with God the Father and the Messiah’s future role in fulfilling the gospel of the kingdom of God (John 3:16–17). Without this key insight, Solomon lamented throughout Ecclesiastes that “all is vanity.”

I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.”

Ecclesiastes 1:14

Because human logic, rationality and “spirituality” at large are also blind to the fullness of the gospel message, humanity remains at a collective loss to understand. Although the Bible is the world’s most available book and billions claim Christian affiliation, few grasp how the law, repentance, the kingdom of God, belief in Jesus as the Son of God, and eternal life interconnect to define human purpose.

As the Parable of the Sower outlines, the Scriptures are read by many, but the willingness to believe that leads to understanding is sparse (Matthew 13:1–9). God Himself is responsible for making understanding possible (verses 11–17). It requires spiritual insight from God, and few accept it when offered (John 6:44, 60–61, 66).

Finding “The Way”

God informed Solomon of a way to live, but not the greater reason why to do so. Beyond an understanding that there would eventually come a time for every individual to account for his or her actions (Ecclesiastes 12:14), the result of judgment remained a mystery. Solomon concluded that it was our duty to obey God simply because God is, well, God; as our Creator, He is owed our respect. “Fear God and keep His Commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (verse 13, English Standard Version).

Today we have the complete Bible, both the Hebrew Scriptures (often called the Old Testament) and the canon of the New Testament. If indeed God exists and the Bible is His message to humankind as it claims to be (2 Timothy 3:16–17), neither part will undercut, circumvent or contradict the other. It must be an integrated whole. Solomon did not have the whole story, but we do today.

The Commandments and the principles that can be drawn from them (Exodus 20:2–17; Matthew 5–7) illuminate the path; they measure out the way to walk in harmony with God’s way of being. Because we have all transgressed that way, we have broken the law (Romans 3:23; James 2:10); this is sin, and it separates us from a relationship with God (Isaiah 59:1–2) and leaves us disconnected from the knowledge of who, what and why we are. We desire light but grope in the dark (verses 9–10).

The Human Way

We have an innate need to fill that gap, to light our dark world. Physicist Marcelo Gleiser describes this desire: “Self-awareness coupled to a high level of cognitive complexity leads to the unique human faculty of self-consciousness, the ability to reflect on our own existence.” We do not like being without answers; we don’t like “existence” without cause or reason. Consequently, on one hand we have invented and hybridized human traditions and mythologies through which we fantasize metaphysical answers. These are our religions.

On the other, we have developed answers by exploring the physical world through scientific investigation. Gleiser recognizes this connection. “Science is a reflection of our very human disquietude, of our longing for order and control, of our awe and fear at the immensity of the cosmos.”

While Gleiser argues that science is inherently limited in what it can reveal, E.O. Wilson believes otherwise—that science is the final arbiter of reality. The ideal human way forward, Wilson suggests, is to trade out the arbitrary “truths” of our previous unenlightened state [superstitions, mythologies, religions] for the discoveries of modern science. “What counts for long-term survival is intelligent self-understanding,” Wilson writes, “based upon a greater independence of thought than that tolerated today even in our most advanced democratic societies.” Accordingly, what must be tolerated is a complete revision of how we perceive ourselves and our motivations.

In large part, Wilson is correct; it is a huge challenge to deconstruct our religious conventions, political dogmas and creationism mythologies, which have been failed attempts at discerning human purpose. They are part of our species’ cultural “parasite load,” Wilson writes.

One must admit that these are prime areas for constant reexamination, as they certainly do create great schisms across the globe. Uncoupling our thinking from past assumptions is clearly needed. Science, not as a means of understanding physical phenomena but as scientism—a false religion of humanist explanations—is likewise ripe for “a greater independence of thought.”

That revision would include a new rubric for evaluating our human institutions. The fragmented reality of the human world is proof that our ways are not those of the God described in the Bible. Truth does not create confusion; God does not originate chaos (1 Corinthians 14:33; Isaiah 45:18). Simply put, the way we behave does not reflect our Creator’s intentions (Isaiah 55:8–9; Proverbs 14:12). Yet it has been common practice through history to condemn God, not human conventions, as the failed idea.

The New Way

Paul did not preach a religion called Christianity. He spoke of a Way of life, calling himself “a follower of the Way” (Acts 24:14, New International Version). That Way encompasses what many call “the gospel”—the good news of God’s plan to heal the breach between Himself, man and the creation caused by sin’s presence in the world (Acts 3:18–21). It describes our Creator’s means of restoring a relationship with all people. It includes accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the atonement on our behalf for the death penalty (eternal death) our sin places on us (Romans 6:23; Colossians 2:13–14). This acceptance and a willingness to repent—that is, to change one’s way of life in obedience to God’s Law and the precedents of behavior and thought that Jesus set in life—forms the foundation of conversion, a transformation of mind and heart (Romans 12:1–2; 1 Peter 1:14–19).

Solomon claimed that the beginning of wisdom was respecting God (Proverbs 1:7). The writer of Hebrews completes the circle by noting that in order to understand the purpose of life, one must believe that God is real and that He rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Faith empowers one to move forward down this path, a path of Commandment-keeping that is often difficult and finds much opposition. But the reward in the present is the peace of mind that comes from living in accord with God.

What lies ahead for all people is a resurrection. Confidence in that future and the outcome of that time of judgment inspires hope. When Jesus asked a first-century legal expert what the Scriptures say regarding the prerequisite for eternal life, the man replied, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus responded, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live” (Luke 10:27–28).

Eternal life in the kingdom of God is the purpose of life that Solomon did not grasp.