It was one of those clear, nondescript days, and we were driving from Arusha to Nairobi, as we had done countless times before. Being familiar with every turn and pothole on the road, we slowed down as we knew we were approaching a police roadblock. Those yellow steel monstrosities with menacing spikes, placed across the road to slow you down, with just enough room to manoeuvre around unless, of course, you are a pickup truck or matatu. Those have to pull over and pay the (in)famous toll (if you know, you know).
Ahead of us was a truck which had also slowed down and, in a surreal moment, the kind in which you pinch yourself to be sure it’s not a nightmare – the truck veered off the road (failed breaks?), over a mould of red soil, into a freshly dug trench, the police officers scattered, and the truck came to rest – belly up and wheels spinning in the air. All I could do, as this reel unfurled, was alternate between wringing my hands, covering my face, and screaming…Jesus…Jesus!
I have of late been re-living the virtual equivalent of this incident on social media, usually on the wall of a public figure. Prefaced with ‘please hide my ID,’ the reel starts to unfold.
“I chanced upon a WhatsApp message on my wife’s phone; I think she is having an affair with one of my friends. I have not said a word about it to her; what should I do?”
The next day it might be a philandering husband, a business conundrum, a ‘situationship’ with children involved, a dilemma with parents or friends, or a health challenge – after which the writer will ask for advice. And as sure as the long rains (before climate change), torrents of advice rain down from all sides of the divide.
“Leave him immediately,” or “stay, for the sake of the kids”, “tit-for-tat is a fair game”, and “persevere;” everyone contributing to the online therapy.
Occasionally a poor fellow will stray out of the bounds of political correctness, and (mob) justice is promptly dispensed; virtual stones righteously pelted at dizzying speeds. And there again is that surreal moment where you can only watch impotently. The thought of someone taking some of the proffered solutions seriously feels eerily like a truck out of control, and the mental visual of the impending derailment makes me go palm face and Jesus…Jesus!
The wise writer of Proverbs says that plans fail for lack of advice, but many advisors bring success. Wisdom understands that other people also have wisdom and allows for the possibility that we may be wrong and are limited; therefore, it’s important to seek counsel. Normally there is more insight when many are consulted; thus, the Proverb affirms this kind of crowdsourcing for wisdom – when many eyes and minds think about a plan, often the plans will be successful.
But what do you do when these pieces of ‘wisdom’ are opposites? Or as removed from each other as sleep from death as we (the Kikuyus) are wont to dramatise.
This brings me to Rehoboam. You may not have heard of him, but you have certainly heard of his Father. If wisdom was a person, then young Rehoboam’s father was the portrait. Solomon himself. Upon his death, the monarchy fell on the 41-year-old, who soon found himself in a situation. He was wise enough to seek counsel. He first posted his question on Facebook and asked the oldies how he should respond. They advised him to assent to the people’s demands, improve their work conditions and implement tax cuts. He then turned to his peers on Snapchat. These were like; those are complainers! Don’t give them an inch; lay it on even heavier. Such conflicting advice, what was he to do?
When faced with options in life, we want to know what will fly and what will crash. All human beings need wisdom on how to get along with neighbours, handle money, whether or whom to marry, whether to stay married, and whether to confront someone or let a matter be. What, then, is wisdom? And where does one find it? Suppose we were told it’s readily available? That nay, contrary to popular belief that it hides, it actually wants to be found?
Such is the claim of the Proverbs, a lot of them written by the sage Solomon himself. In its own words, the book is a manual for living, or learning what’s right and just and fair. It says it’s for the young and inexperienced and has something for the seasoned men and women. More significantly, it says that Wisdom goes out in the street and shouts. In the town centre, she makes her speech. In the middle of the traffic, she takes her stand. At the busiest corner, she calls out. Indeed, She does not stand aloof but comes towards us where we live and struggle day by day.
But that is not where many of us go for wisdom, for what would those outdated verses have to say about cryptocurrency, voting, inflation and other immediate and practical issues of our day? And yet it has plenty to say about the bedroom, kitchen, business place, farms, spending money, borrowing, career path, and everyday matters of how to use words. It talks about relationships; fathers and sons, mothers and sons, neighbours with each other, rulers and subjects – wisdom offers her best if we will only listen. Say, for example, “A loud and cheerful greeting early in the morning will be taken as a curse!” (Proverbs 27:14) A well-intentioned but ill-timed greeting can backfire, and that’s worth knowing – right?
Our young-ish king, faced with conflicting ‘wisdom’, chose to go with his Snapchat buddies. The result was a revolt in which his right-hand man lost his life, Rehoboam himself had to flee, and the kingdom was forever split into two. Epic derailment.
I wonder why he had to go from one group to the other for wisdom. We may have watched someone go for advice from place to place and finally, we realised that they really did not want advice but rather a confirmation of the way they really wanted to take. We all know how it is to want someone to say what we want to hear. Could that have been the case for Rehoboam?
Like Rehoboam, with the Facebook and Snapchat folk, there are two ‘wisdoms’ competing in our lives, and we must know how to discern between right and wrong advice. Another wise writer talks of the two ‘wisdoms’ as being either from above or earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.
We must therefore be sure that what we are seeking is actually wisdom and not mere approval of our wrong choices, and better still, why not go to the source of wisdom itself? Otherwise, we might be headed for an epic crash like Rehoboam, a picture of what Paul wrote to his younger protegee Timothy.
For the time is coming when [people] will not tolerate (endure) sound and wholesome instruction, but, having ears itching [for something pleasing and gratifying], they will gather to themselves one teacher after another to a considerable number, chosen to satisfy their own liking and to foster the errors they hold.
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