Finding a Holy Balance

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The Book of Proverbs is full of gentle, pithy, sometimes trenchant words of wisdom. These wisdom statements bear eternal truths, that is why we can read them today, thousands of years after they were penned, and still be shaken and moved by them, still see their wisdom. They are homey insights rooted in common human experience. They are inspired by the Holy Spirit. And, like all such proverbial statements, they are intended to instruct us. They are meant to show us, in simple terms, how to live in accord with God’s eternal and life-giving laws.

ʺEvery word of God is tested; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Add nothing to his words, lest he reprove you, and you will be exposed as a deceiver.ʺ (Proverbs 30: 5-6) These are the opening words of today’s passage from Proverbs. They are very clear and one does not miss their intent. We are to take them as they are. We are not to add anything to them. In their own way, they teach us the importance of humility. To add anything to God’s word, or worse, to subtract anything from God’s word, would be a supreme act of pride. Those who are ordained to teach and to preach God’s word must do so with humble fear and trembling, lest they fall victim to the siren call of pride. God’s words are tested and they are pure. We must approach them with this understanding in mind.

The rest of the passage has the potential of being a major challenge to us today. Especially in our society, which gives so much importance to wealth. To often in our culture, wealth becomes an idol. This passage challenges the gospel of prosperity directly. And it does so, not by a direct condemnation, but with simple, positive words of wisdom:

ʺTwo things I ask of you, deny them not to me before I die: Put falsehood and lying far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches; provide me only with the food I need; lest, being full, I deny you, saying, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or being in want, I steal, and profane the name of my God.ʺ (Proverbs 30: 7-9)

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There is the wisdom of a happy life. If we read it correctly, we can see that it is rooted in the humble recognition of our absolute dependence on God. By keeping our eyes on God, rather than on our material condition, we are able to see the proper balance of a good life. We can see that both riches and poverty, if they become the sole concerns of our lives, if they drive everything we do, they can draw us away from ourselves, others, and God. We can become driven by competition, by comparing ourselves to others, and our lives then can become a swamp of greed, jealousy, anger, and despair. If, on the other hand, we see the the wisdom of God here, if we see that the Golden Mean, the balance, is the source of happiness, then, if we are rich, we will be happily detached enough from the idol of wealth that we will give generously of our time, treasure, and talent to meet the needs of those who have not. Our wealth will not cause us to have a false sense of ourselves. If we truly understand the word of God here, we will not let ourselves become too ‘full’ of the ‘comforts’ that our wealth makes available to us at our instant demand, we will not deny God, saying, ‘Who is the Lord?’ If I understand God’s word here, and I am poor, and in want, I will not be driven to steal, and in doing so, profane God’s name.

In our world, there are human-created conditions that cause directly affect the poor, that even create the conditions of poverty, or exacerbate them. The poor find little in the way of support or sympathy. Remember the parable of Lazarus and Dives. Lazarus, sat begging every day before the gates of Dives’ house in his ragged clothes, his skin covered with sores. Every day, Dives, in his comfort, passed in and out of his door never paying a moment’s attention to Lazarus, or his plight. If Dives had paid heed to this passage from proverbs and seen that his status and his wealth were nothing in comparison to Lazarus’ suffering, he would not have found himself in hell. Lazarus, on the other hand, did not steal from Dives, did not, respond to Dives’ indifference with self-righteous anger. In his day, of course, there were no social programs like Welfare, or Social Security. The poor in those days were said to be in that condition by the will of God. That ‘theology’ has even come down into our own times. That is a theology that could only come from human pride. It attempts to assign human pride to the will of God. It turns God’s nature into something that is arbitrary, even unloving. This can only come from a heart that is too full of itself, that is on the verge of denying God.

Let us all pray over these words of wisdom from the Book of Proverbs. ʺTwo things I ask of you…Put falsehood and lying far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches; provide me only with the food I need. Lest being full, I deny you, saying, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or, being in want, I steal, and profane the name of God.ʺ Let us pray that God teach our hearts desire a holy balance, so that we may be truly happy in his name. Amen.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.