“A rich man’s wealth is his fortified city and like a lofty wall – in his imagination.” Proverbs 18:11
One of the characteristics I love most about the book of Proverbs is the difficult, but honest balance it seeks and sees in most things and, as a result, the nuanced truth it teaches.
It takes strong stands. Make no mistake. But where “gray” is true, we don’t see “black or white” touted.
Unhappily, this is not often the case in our culture and our politics. You know what I’m talking about. The proponents of “either-or” thinking are all over the news; indeed they tend to include both the newsmakers as well as those covering the news. “My side is good and right, and the other side is bad and wrong.”
Just as unfortunate is the proclivity of today’s merchants of “virtue” to claim purity, that is, that there is no shading in their views. There’s no nuance. It’s as if the idea that truth would have complex and sometimes conflicting dimensions would run counter to virtue itself.
Sadly, I see this in abundance in modern day religion, too, especially in the propaganda that often comes from the pulpit as well as the resolution-spewing machines of organizations from all across the faith spectrum.
This is true both on the right and the left. “The Bible (or our tradition) is clear on this, and we take our position to be true to the cause.” When asked how they would deal with other people who are equally of faith but have opposing views, these folks either double down in the trenches they’ve dug or slink away, promising to be open to diversity but never really meaning it.
In today’s proverb, we find truth that illustrates how often wisdom brings to bear the best features of ideas from varying sides of a reality. Let’s take a look.
Wealth is good! It provides advantages that are unmistakable. It brings power. It gives us resources that help protect us from all sorts of dangers and threats. Being opposed to wealth per se is, we’re taught, foolish and wrong.
But the strength of wealth is limited; so, being too enamored of it is equally foolish and wrong. Wealth is more important in our imagination than it is in reality. We fashion it as a wall that is higher than it is. And, thus, we tend to make a false image (idol?) of it.
What’s the risk of failing to acknowledge each side of this truth? We fail to benefit from the utility of wealth if we refuse to see its real value. But, if we over-rely on wealth, we put ourselves at risk of loss and defeat by thinking wealth is more than it is and can meet needs that require more spiritual or ethical resources for satisfaction.
The beauty of balanced wisdom is that it disciplines our imagination to be aligned with truth. Then, in wholeness, we can best find our way to success in meeting our most important needs.
None of this is as easy as following the path of simple ideology. But, for those who seek true righteousness, justice, and fairness, it is a surer path.