Monday, May 13, 2019

Wisdom and Truth

There's a difference between wisdom and truth that we don't often think about any more, as we consider the two to be pretty much the same sort of thing. But truth is whatever information is accurate, valid, and worthy; wisdom is knowing what to do with truth. 

The Scriptures share an interesting story meant to illustrate the wisdom of Solomon, a story that most of us know fairly well or have at least heard of. What we often miss, however, is that nowhere in this story are we told the truth. This is where we must be careful.

The story is about two mothers, each with young children. Some versions tell us the women are prostitutes, although that doesn't really have any bearing on the story itself. (Think about this the next time you're tempted to label anyone anything - does that label have any bearing on the story, without you attaching a judgment to it?) 

While the women were sleeping, one of the babies died, and one of the mothers accuses the other of switching the dead baby with her living baby, thus kidnapping her child and claiming it as her own. They argue back and forth over this, which seems fairly easy to do and to get lost in if you're reading along, and then Solomon raises a hand and quiets them. 

It's fairly simple in his eyes: take the living child and cut it in half. Give half to each mother, then they will each have part of a baby. 

That's not really what Solomon is proposing; he has no interest in sawing live children in half. But he knows that the child's true mother will have a protective instinct over the baby and will object to the plan, while the mother seeking to replace her lost child will think it a great plan and settle for what she can get. As he expects, one of the women agrees wholeheartedly to the plan and praises it, while the other woman is horrified and objects loudly. He then gives the living child to the objector.

Question: which woman was which?

The Scriptures don't tell us. They don't tell us whether the first woman, the one bringing the case, was the actual mother or whether the second woman was. They don't tell us which woman agreed and which objected. There's no way for us, thousands of years later, to sort it out between parties; we can only know that wisdom prevailed and revealed the truth, a truth that we are not privy to, though we hold onto the wisdom.

Our natural inclination is to think that the woman identified first is a certain of the women, thus leaving the other woman to be the other party. It's the way our minds are trained - it's the fallacy of primacy. Because she is mentioned as speaking, standing, replying first, we assume one thing about her, but that may or may not be the case. 

It's possible that the true mother of the child came to the courts to fight for her child back. But it's also entirely possible that the mother of the dead child came hoping to hold onto anything at all of any child and to deceive the courts into giving her a consolation for her dead child...perhaps even by awarding her the living one. We just don't know. 

And while we want to say, "Oh, the first woman is clearly the mother" or "clearly not the mother," our natural inclination to do so also inclines us toward a good and beautiful story. We want it to be a certain way because it is most satisfying that way, and yet, we know from our lived experience that this isn't always the case about stories. 

It's just an interesting scene for us to think about because I know that when I read this passage, I have a certain understanding of what truth is about these two women, but when I read it closer, I realize that the Scriptures here don't give us the truth; we impose it. The Scriptures only give us the wisdom. 

And if that is true in this story, in how many other stories in the Bible is it also true? Where have we claimed truth when the Bible has given us wisdom? Where do we need to humble ourselves and confess this, and then live accordingly? 

No comments:

Post a Comment