One of the best books in my library is a little collection of proverbs by Peter Kreeft entitled A Turn of the Clock. Do you want some samples? Under the title, “The New Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God,” Kreeft writes: “If there’s a Big Bang, there must be a Big Banger.” Then there’s this one, under the heading, “The World’s Worst Smell”: “Bodies stink after they die; dead souls, before.” (Think about that!) Or how about this contrast between heaven and hell: “Hell is an unending church service without God. Heaven is God without a church service.”
The first proverb in Kreeft’s book—and the one that ties in to today’s devotional—says this, “All proverbs are half-truths—including this one.” Now, in my opinion, that pretty much sums up the tentative nature of many proverbs. Sometimes—in certain situations—they’re applicable. In others, not so much. After all, which is truer, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” or “Out of sight, out of mind”? The fact is, both are true, depending on the circumstances.
In Ecclesiastes 9:11–18, the Preacher draws some conclusions that seem to contradict other portions of Scripture. He writes, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.” Obviously, this is all too often true. The best people do not experience the best in life. Sometimes, the wise are poor while fools are wealthy, or the just imprisoned while their unjust wardens roam free. This is a simple variation on the problem of evil, that we do not get what we deserve but are instead the victims of time and chance.
And yet, other Scriptures indicate that a wise man will be rewarded for his wisdom in this life, that he will get the rewards he has worked for: “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4). According to Psalm 1.3, the one who meditates day and night on God’s Law is “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Jesus himself articulated this principle in Matthew 6.33, when he said, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” In context, “all these things” refer to what we eat, drink, and wear—to our material possessions in other words.
So which principle is truer? That wisdom has no rewards because life is filled with time and chance, or that wisdom has its reward because life is directed by God toward justice? Well, both are equally true, but along different horizons. Over the near horizon, the wise may see time and chance rob them of their just deserts. But over the long horizon, God will reward the wise for their righteous behavior. In the Christian religion, it is an article of faith that justice will be done, whether now or eventually. That is why the Preacher counsels wisdom despite his admission that it does not always pay off in the short term: “wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.”
One more from Kreeft: “In hell the auto mechanics have to drive the cars they ‘fixed’ on earth.” I cannot imagine a more truthful proverb, viewed over the long horizon, of course.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.