A Solomonic Dialogue

The following text is Chapter One of a book project I abandoned about two years ago.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10

SOLOMON. Chasing after the wind. Chasing after the wind. Meaningless! Meaningless!

He sits on a log, his face hidden by a ragged grey cowl. From time to time he speaks up clearly, but his feeble old voice is mostly  inaudible.

DISCIPLE. Excuse me, old man.

SOLOMON.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them…

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2:4-5, 10-11

DISCIPLE. Excuse me, old man.

SOLOMON.

What does the worker gain from his toil?

Ecclesiastes 3:9

Eh? What?

DISCIPLE. Excuse me, old man, but what is it you are saying?

SOLOMON.

Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 1:1-2

He turns his face upward, toward me. His cowl falls back, revealing the deep creases on his sunlit face. His blind eyes wander in different directions.

SOLOMON. What is it you seek, my son?

DISCIPLE. I seek rest for my soul.

SOLOMON. Hmm. Well. You seek a fine thing. There are few in this land who seek anything. Anything meaningful, anyway. Chasing after the wind…

DISCIPLE. Do you have any guidance to offer?

SOLOMON. You have met the Master?

DISCIPLE. Yes, sir, if you mean am I a Christian, then yes. I have been following him for many years.

SOLOMON. Hmm. You know these words, do you?

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

DISCIPLE. Yes, Wise Man.

SOLOMON. And yet your soul is not at rest?

DISCIPLE. No, Wise Man. No, I have no rest. My soul is weary and burdened. I know there ought to be more joy in my life. Why is it all so gray and bleak and wearisome? It seems so unlike the promise of the Master. Or even the promise of Isaiah:

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.  Isaiah 26:3

SOLOMON. You seek peace of mind. At least that’s what your culture calls it. My father David referred to it as “rest for the soul.”

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him.  Psalm 62:5

To gain this rest, I’m afraid you will have to accept certain premises. You will have to learn to trust God in a way to which you are probably not accustomed. Ever since Adam deliberately bit the fruit, Man has tried to operate his life out of his own soul. Independence runs deep in every person at this point. And how has that worked out?

DISCIPLE. Not very well. People are weary, burdened, burned out, and tired. I want to help them find rest. I want to find that rest myself.

SOLOMON.

I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 1:14

DISCIPLE. All meaningless? Is there no hope?

SOLOMON.

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Jeremiah 6:16

Perhaps no one has told you about the crossroads.

DISCIPLE. A crossroads? Is this some sort of roadway?

SOLOMON. The Ancient Path. The Good Way. You must walk in it.

DISCIPLE. Like a quest? A journey?

SOLOMON.  It begins with a step. A step you haven’t yet taken.

DISCIPLE. What do you mean?

SOLOMON. How can one speak of walking in a path who doesn’t even know where the path begins?

DISCIPLE. Sir, I have journeyed a long way already.

SOLOMON. Who cares how much roadway lies behind you? Meaningless! You haven’t yet reached the very first milepost. Milepost Zero!

DISCIPLE. Milepost Zero?

SOLOMON. Milepost Zero is where your journey must begin.

DISCIPLE. I can see that you are a wise man. Please explain these things to me, ignorant and dull-witted pilgrim as I am.

SOLOMON. Hmm. You may indeed be ignorant, but that is, in my experience, only a temporary condition. Easily remedied. Let me show you the way to Milepost Zero. Where does one begin such a quest? Where is the beginning of wisdom?

DISCIPLE. I know this: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”[1] Your words, from the Proverbs.

SOLOMON. Hmm. My words. Hardly. I learned them from my father:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.

Psalm 111:10

He learned them from the ancient story of Job:

Where then does wisdom come from? Where does understanding dwell? It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing, concealed even from the birds of the air.

Destruction and Death say, ‘Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.’

God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells, for he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. When he established the force of the wind and measured out the waters, when he made a decree for the rain and a path for the thunderstorm, then he looked at wisdom and appraised it; he confirmed it and tested it.

And he said to man, ‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.’”

Job 28:20-28

DISCIPLE. So then, this is the Ancient Path you epak of?

SOLOMON. It is indeed one of the most ancient truths in the universe. It is there that your journey begins. Milepost Zero.

DISCIPLE. I agree that this is an important truth, but I am unsure how it brings me any closer to my goal. My quest is not strictly for wisdom. I want rest for my soul. We need to find –”

SOLOMON. What you need, O reluctant pilgrim, is to start your journey. You will wander this bleak, dreary land for the rest of your life unless you acknowledge the fear of the LORD. Do you see these poor people! Muddling through their meaningless lives, no fear of God before their eyes.

DISCIPLE. What do they lack?

SOLOMON. They have no wisdom! No understanding of God!

DISCIPLE. And yet they are very religious. Many of them follow the Master.

SOLOMON. Prideful, self-sufficient people! They seem so sure of themselves. Emptiness and vanity! Such crushing sadness! No fear of the LORD! My friend, be wise. Begin at the beginning. There you will find Milepost Zero. Until then, everything else is meaningless, meaningless, meaningless…”

SOLOMON. A wise place to begin, at the beginning. Wisdom is the greatest treasure, and you are seeking the key:

He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich storehouse of salvation and wisdom and blessing; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.

Isaiah 33:6

We begin here, then. A locked treasure lies before us. What shall we do?

DISCIPLE. We should obtain the key.

SOLOMON. Ah, yes, but what if the key is hidden?

Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”

Luke 11:52

DISCIPLE. Hidden? Why hidden?

SOLOMON. In time you will understand. The authorities hide the key because it presents a threat to their system. But you will find it. You are already on your way to it.

DISCIPLE. Very well, then, what is this ‘fear of the LORD’?

SOLOMON.  Good for you to admit you don’t know! Now I shall give you three verses. You must write these down and ruminate on them.

I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.

Ecclesiastes 3:14

If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O LORD, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.

Psalm 130:3-4

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Philippians 2:13-14

SOLOMON. So, disciple, what does it mean to fear the LORD?

DISCIPLE. I suppose it means I ought to fear His judgment. He is the supreme moral authority of the universe; everything Man does is evaluated and measured by Him.

SOLOMON. Hmm. As a disciple, do you fear judgment?

DISCIPLE. Well, actually, no. Jesus has taken all the punishment for me, so there is no fear.

SOLOMON. Ah. “Perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The man who fears is not made perfect in love”[2].

DISCIPLE. Yes, Teacher. I believe that.

SOLOMON. Good. So then, perhaps you wish to modify your previous comment that the person who desires wisdom must fear God’s judgment?

DISCIPLE. Well, I think I meant that people should have proper reverence for his authority.

SOLOMON. Disciple, I want you to look with me at three species of fear, as described in the Scriptures. You tell me what you think of them.

Three Fears of God

First, consider this:

I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does this so that men will fear him.

Ecclesiastes 3:14

Tell me, disciple, what is this kind of fear?

DISCIPLE. This teaching is that the LORD does all things; no plan of his can be thwarted. This kind of fear is more like awe – simply the acknowledgement of His supreme authority within His universe.

SOLOMON. Would you say the world endorses this particular conviction?

DISCIPLE. The world? No, I suppose not. The world gives us quite the opposite message.

SOLOMON. True.

DISCIPLE. Graduation speakers, for example, always charge up the class by telling them the future is in their hands.

SOLOMON. Most of the modern world acknowledges God’s existence in some way, but will not grant Him sovereignty, nor acknowledge His active role. The world has inoculated them against this first fear of God. Yet the disciple who embraces this fear finds peace and comfort in it.

We will look much more deeply into this topic in a little while, when we hear from the brothers Jacob and Esau. For now, let us move on to the next of our three Scriptures:

If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O LORD, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.

Psalm 130:3-4

How does this fear work itself out in the conscience of Man?

DISCIPLE. I must admit I’m puzzled. What does this mean? I would expect exactly the opposite. If the LORD were harsh and vindictive, showing no forgiveness, that would be a reasonable rationale for fearing him. But how can mercy and forgiveness inspire fear?

SOLOMON. That kind of fear has to do with punishment. We already noted that the disciple who has trusted in Christ has no fear of punishment. So in what way could a true disciple fear God, on the basis of this verse?

DISCIPLE. I suppose it’s a matter of perspective; I mean, God alone holds the power to forgive sin. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”[3]

SOLOMON. No man can justify himself.

DISCIPLE. Yes, Teacher. God alone holds the only set of keys to righteousness.

SOLOMON. Then God chooses.

DISCIPLE. Yes, but –

SOLOMON. And he chooses — on his own initiative, not because of anyone’s personal qualities or efforts — to forgive them.

DISCIPLE. Teacher, this brings up a question. How does one earn His favor, then? Why does the Scripture give us commandment after commandment, if not to please Him?

SOLOMON. Let me try something else. Do you know what “holiness” means?

DISCIPLE. Separateness. “Set-apart-ness.”

SOLOMON. Very good. What does God mean when He repeats, dozens of times in the Scriptures, that He is ‘holy’? What is He telling Man?

DISCIPLE. That He is above us. He is transcendent, far above Man. Teacher, I don’t see how this relates to the idea of forgiveness.

SOLOMON. God stands above human efforts to influence him. How do the pagans address their false gods?

DISCIPLE. They implore them to grant favors. They offer sacrifices, perform rituals, make vows, expecting good treatment in return.

SOLOMON. So the gods of the pagans – as if they existed – are manipulated by offerings and incantations of their disciples. You, however, are a disciple of the Lord. How is it different with you?

DISCIPLE. I see now. He stands above Man, untainted by human manipulation or bribery. Or my attempts to perform for Him, or earn my way into his favor. His holiness means I cannot earn anything from Him.

SOLOMON. God will be no man’s debtor. Thus far you have seen only a tiny sparkle of light. We will spend much time exploring this second fear of the LORD, as we consider the tragic story of Cain and Abel. But I would like to complete the framework by asking you to consider the third area of fear:

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Philippans 2:12-13

Disciple, what is this kind of fear?

DISCIPLE. Ah. This verse speaks to the process of sanctification, the invisible working of the Holy Spirit in the human heart. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it pleases; you hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”[4]

SOLOMON. Even the angels, both good and evil, find this mystery hidden from their sight. This is the most distant threshold. The disciple who reaches this realization has come a long way in his journey.

God reveals himself in three distinct ways: as the omnipotent Creator and Owner of the universe, as the merciful Redeemer who dispenses forgiveness on his terms alone, and as the invisible indwelling Mystery that enables Man to please Him.

DISCIPLE. Like the three Persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

SOLOMON. Yes. Very astute. To know Him is to know these three manifestations, and to know Him in truth is to fear Him in these three ways.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Matthew 7:13-14

These are three forms of the fear of God. They are like three gateways. Every person who would know Him must pass through all three gates in their proper sequence. But be warned: these are narrow gates. They are hard to find, and harder still to pass through. Each one represents a crisis, fraught with danger. There is a right and a wrong path leading from each one. Choose wisely, and you will find peace and freedom. Choose poorly, or carelessly, and you will find yourself in some degree of misery.

These are not truths apprehended readily by the human mind, encumbered as it is with innate hubris and an instinctive urge for self-justification.

Come now, we have a long journey ahead. We must meet many characters along the way and hear their stories.

He rises and takes my arm. I do not know where we are going.


[1] Proverbs 1:11, 9:10.

[2] 1 John 4:18.

[3] Mark 2:6.

[4] John 3:8.

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