“We honor God for everything that He keeps out of sight; We honor kings for searching out, and bringing things to light.” (Proverbs 25:2)
This is the twenty-fifth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter. The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 25, preceded by a brief reflection.
Growing old doesn’t make one an expert in aging, any more than slicing a finger makes one a phlebotomist. Still, with advancing years a person experiences changes in their body that are alien to the young. There was a time when I didn’t think twice about my body mechanics – standing, bending, turning, and walking all came naturally; these days I am cautious before making any quick movement. When I was young, my mind could at once hold onto multiple thoughts; these days when I enter a room, I often forget why I am there. And increasingly, I am aware of the brevity of life as serious medical events and the loss of those I have known provide frequent reminders of mortality.
Still, aging also has its consolations. For me, this includes time for reflection. Even as my body slowly breaks down, I have the hope that I can continue to grow spiritually. The Apostle Paul wrote of this hope, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) As I look for reliable guidance for navigating this phase of my life, I find an essentially complete spirituality of aging distilled in a single verse – Proverbs 25:2. “We honor God for everything that He keeps out of sight; We honor kings for searching out, and bringing things to light.” Let me explain.
The first part of the verse, “We honor God for everything that He keeps out of sight,” relates to God’s invisibility and his inscrutable ways. This is the mystery that the Apostle Paul captures in the doxology in Romans 11:33-36:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Yes, God’s ways are invisible, but he leaves markers. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:20-21) In other words, God reveals himself in the wonders of creation that he has made, and which can be contemplated by anyone with open eyes and a thankful heart.
My daily morning walk has become a time when I try to be more aware of God’s revelation in the natural world. On my better days, I seek to savor the moment, the weather, seasonal changes, how I am feeling – aches and all, and give God thanks. Some mornings the clouds and sun seem to dance as they declare the glory of God. Often in Spring a cacophony of birdsongs lifts my heart to God. And sometimes of a morning my friend Steve pulls up in his pickup truck. Steve has had multiple heart surgeries and is a medical miracle in many ways. When I ask how he is doing, his inevitable response is, “God is so good, he has given me another day.”
The second half of the verse, “We honor kings for searching out, and bringing things to light,” takes some parsing. Recall that this was written by Solomon, who was a king with outstanding wisdom and knowledge. “Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt.” (1 Kings 4:30) No doubt Solomon had himself in mind when he wrote this verse. These days we don’t have kings, and there are very few leaders who bring things to light – the politics of today being based more on disinformation than enlightenment. So for this verse to have any currency, ‘kings’ must be understood as a metonymy for those who discover and bring things to light. Indeed, the Message translation uses ‘scientists’ rather than kings.
But the salient point is not whether it is a king or scientist who brings something to light but that it is a flesh and blood person who is enlightening us with knowledge or otherwise lightening our load. The contrast in this verse is between the hidden ways of God and the visible ways of people. In both instances we are called to respond with honor that is grounded in thankfulness. When someone provides a service, I thank them. When someone is kind, I thank them. When someone forgives me, I thank them. Thankfulness is food for the soul – nourishing both the receiver and the giver.
The clarion call of the spiritual life is to thankfulness. First, to God for our lives and all that is good and pure in creation; and second to those around us. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) As we grow older, thankfulness in ever increasing measure becomes a moral imperative. The author, Morris West writes, “At a certain age our lives simplify, and we need have only three phrases left in our spiritual vocabulary: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
But it would be wrong to suggest that thankfulness is only for the twilight years, as it is a foundational virtue for the life of every follower of Christ. Not only as a way of loving and honoring others, but as a road to a more satisfying life with fewer regrets as one ages. For, as Ronald Rolheiser writes, “Many … deeply regret that during the healthiest and most productive years of their lives they were too driven and too unaware of the richness of their own lives to appreciate and enjoy what they were doing. Instead of privilege, they felt burden; instead of gratitude, they felt resentment; and instead of joy, they felt anger. One of the demons we wrestle with during our adult years is … a joylessness bordering on anger.” (Sacred Fire)
One of the challenges we face throughout our lives is the tendency to take things for granted. If we are not careful, our desire to get ahead or simply keep our head above water can turn into a singular focus on self. This in turn can blind us to all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. When we take such blessings of God and the people around us for granted, it is but a small step to the cancer of entitlement. And when this metastasizes in our soul, the stage is set for disappointment and bitterness in old age.
As followers of Christ, we want to live well – abundantly and generatively. We also want to end well. I know many people who have struggled with health issues as they have grown older – weakened hearts, failed kidneys, senility, various cancers, and the like. No one I know rejoices at their maladies, nor should they. Some are stoic, some complain, and some despair. It can be a lonely journey – this final one of our mortal life. But those who seem to navigate it with the most aplomb and grace are those with thankful hearts.
1 These Proverbs are of Solomon,
that future scribes wrote down –
When Judah’s Hezekiah was,
the king who wore the crown.
2 We honor God for everything,
that He keeps out of sight;
We honor kings for searching out,
and bringing things to light.
3 As high as heavens are above,
and earth is deep below;
A king’s heart is unsearchable,
his mind no one can know.
4 Remove the dross from silver ore,
by purging what’s impure;
And then a silversmith can make,
a vessel to endure.
5 Remove the wicked from the king,
and keep them from his sight;
And then his throne will be preserved,
through what is just and right.
6 Don’t praise yourself before the king,
or tell him how you rate;
And do not stand or claim a place,
among the famed and great.
7 Much better he should say to you,
“Step up and come to me;”
Than have him shame you in the eyes,
of his nobility.
8 Don’t be too quick to go to court,
a grievance to pursue;
For if a neighbor shames your word,
O what then will you do?
9 Instead, present your arguments,
in person face to face;
But don’t betray another’s trust,
in how you state your case.
10 For if you break a confidence,
then you will come to shame;
And evermore a bad report,
will fasten to your name.
11 Like apples of the finest gold,
upon a silver bed;
Is any word that’s fitly made,
and opportunely said.
12 Like earrings of the purest gold,
and ornaments so dear;
Is any warning from the wise,
upon a willing ear.
13 Like snow that comes at harvesttime,
refreshes all the land;
Is any faithful messenger,
to one who’s in command.
14 Like clouds and wind without some rain,
that’s needed for a drought;
Is one who boasts of giving gifts,
but never hands them out.
15 Through patience rulers can be coaxed,
to change how they are prone;
For gentle words can break a will,
that’s harder than a bone.
16 Don’t gorge yourself on honeycomb,
you find within a tree;
Too much and surely you’ll feel bad,
as sickly you will be.
17 Don’t go into your neighbors’ house,
too often as a guest;
Or they will hate the sight of you,
for being such a pest.
18 Like warring club or sharpened sword,
or arrow set to maim;
Is one who gives false evidence,
against a neighbor’s claim.
19 Like broken or decaying tooth,
or foot that is not sound;
Is trusting in a faithless soul,
when trouble comes around.
20 Like vinegar on open flesh,
or coat removed when cold;
Is anyone who sings a song,
a grieving heart can’t hold.
21 If your enemy is hungry,
give food to fill him up;
If thirsty give a welcome drink,
like water from a cup.
22 In doing this, then burning coals,
you’ll heap upon his head;
The Lord will then reward you for,
providing drink and bread.
23 Like wind that comes down from the north,
will certainly bring rain;
Is one whose gossiping provokes,
an angry look of pain.
24 Much better with a rooftop nook,
and solitary life;
Than sharing an entire house,
in conflict with a wife.
25 Like water to a thirsty soul,
so weary it can’t stand;
Is good news that is coming from,
a far and distant land.
26 Like springs with mud, or tainted wells,
which grime and trash defile;
Are righteous souls submitting to,
the wicked and the vile.
27 It is not good to overeat,
the honey from the comb;
Nor is it glorious to seek,
out glory for one’s own.
28 Like walls around a city that,
are split with breach and hole;
Is anyone with raging heart,
and lacking self-control.