Avoiding the Disintegration of Life

By Joe Boot / January 21, 2016

Topic Lordship

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When someone’s life starts to spiral out of control and things go wrong in their personal lives, relationships and work, some will turn to drink or drugs or other destructive behaviors to numb the pain. Others will seek help from therapists for their emotional or mental anguish; others will look to the doctor’s psychotropic pills to help them ‘hold it together.’ Sadly there is a degree of social stigma associated with seeking help when things begin to crumble. People may observe that such a person is ‘falling apart’ or ‘cracking up’ or ‘losing it,’ or use a variety of other euphemisms to describe a process of steady or rapid disintegration in a person’s life.

Disintegration is the opposite of integration. To be integrated is to be whole so that the parts flow, fit and work together harmoniously. If we say that something has integrity we are saying that it is whole and unimpaired. How might we avoid the tragic path of disintegration?

The best course is to ask the wise. The famed king Solomon is a very important figure in Scripture, peculiarly singled out for his great wisdom. His kingly dominion and leadership was the culmination of godly wisdom the like of which had not been seen or heard to that point. We read in the historical books of the Bible that Solomon’s integrated wisdom encompassed both the natural world and the realms of human life and culture with its varied concerns.

A brief survey of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon reveals the wholeness and restorative character of his wisdom in everything from romance and parenting to government and zoology. In 1 Kings 4:34 we read, “people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.” That the kings and queens of pagan antiquity came to hear him expound God’s wisdom on life and culture gives tacit testimony to the superiority and unique character of biblical wisdom.

Consequently, the writer of Ecclesiastes (probably Solomon) is not like a Greek philosopher or modern thinker, reflecting in fatalistic terms upon the futility of life as he subjectively feels it – quite the contrary. Solomon is the anointed King over Israel, the people of God, and the inheritor of God’s revealed word and promises. He is the wisest and most illustrious king of the ancient world. He represents, up until that time, the apex of godly wisdom and understanding. In short, in Ecclesiastes, Solomon offers God’s explanation of man’s experience under the sun, as it now is in a fallen world. He does not, like a humanistic philosopher, begin his reflections merely with his own experience as though that were sufficient to itself.

Solomon’s project is that by wisdom, that is, by God’s word at the foundation of his inquiries (Ecc. 1:13), he might apply his heart to search out all that is done under heaven. He is not content with bits and pieces, nor is he seeking escape from our tangled world like an Eastern philosopher or monk. Rather, he seeks to engage it by means of wisdom to sort it out. He has listened and learned in order to make an accounting of all that is done under the muggy glare of the sun.

In this task of study and action we are reminded of the original calling of our first parents: to work, to serve, to develop creation and turn it into a God-glorifying culture or kingdom. Adam’s calling (like Solomon’s) was a civilizational one, and so, much wisdom-seeking in the history of human speculation has been concerned with society, empire, the polis, or kingdom-building – to find integration in a fractured world. Solomon represented the greatest realization of a civilizational or cultural program so far. He ruled over a great and peaceful kingdom; built a magnificent Temple; was the world’s most renowned teacher of wisdom and was surrounded by almost unimaginable prosperity and wealth. He was the ancient world’s greatest exemplar of a unity of knowledge and understanding – of wisdom in action.

Critically, Solomon recognized with all of Scripture the integration of all of life in terms of a common purpose and meaning under God – no aspect of creation, of experience is meaningless, but has purpose in terms of God’s creative and redemptive plan. But because of sin entering the world and the curse of God on creation, man’s life and thinking became disintegrating so that all those who rebel against God and his word and purpose are caught up in the spiralling disintegration of life and thought.

The Wisdom of God
After the Fall man began to think in terms of bits and pieces. As the triune God who brings unity in diversity was pushed from his thoughts, he posited and began worshipping many gods, a cacophony of warring voices and forces, and he felt all around him the threat of impending chaos. The universe became a multi-verse as his thought became reductionistic. Eventually his disintegrating world could only be integrated by moving downward into the void, as Cornelius Van Til once powerfully put it.

Sadly, even as Christians, there has been a tendency to lose sight of the integrated nature of life under God so that dualistic thinking is pervasive in many modern churches. To compartmentalize life into the realm of ‘nature’ on the one hand, and ‘grace’ on the other (or in more contemporary terms, into two kingdoms) has been a common feature of Greek-influenced Christian thought. The realm of nature is thought to be that of almost all public life, culture and government, which need not be ruled or shaped by the norms and wisdom of God in Scripture; whilst the realm of grace, where God is permitted, is sequestered in the church institution and reduced to personal, subjective interests and concerns.

Humanistic ideals have consequently been allowed to seize control of vast areas of public life by Christian heresies that restrict God’s word from ‘everything that is done under the Sun’ to a meager portion of human experience, dislocating the Christian from their calling in the world – which is to bring all things under the integrating and restorative realm of the gospel of Christ. As such the Christian worldview has disintegrated and become increasingly impotent in a dying culture. Yet, as the reformed theologian Gresham Machen put it, “the field of Christianity is the world … the Christian cannot be indifferent to any branch of earnest human endeavor. It must all be brought into some relation to the gospel.”[1]

This total integration and comprehensiveness of all life under God is how Solomon the Teacher thinks of wisdom – for him God’s revealed wisdom applies to all aspects of human experience and is not limited to a fictional dualistic layer of ‘grace’ unhooked from ‘nature.’ For Solomon in his teaching to the nations and remarkable cultural leadership, no area of life or thought could be disconnected from its relation to God without the steady disintegration of life and thought and the collapse of man’s world into vanity and meaninglessness so clearly set out in Ecclesiastes.

Human beings, in our rebellion against God would dispense with him if we could, even when we are cracking up, but the result, the teacher shows us, is disintegration, a striving after the wind (Ecc. 1:14).

The crisis of our personal and cultural disintegration is rooted in the fact that we have traded God’s wisdom for the notion that man, acting as his own god, can generate from his own consciousness a wisdom to overcome the curse and the burden of futility placed upon us. Ecclesiastes shows us this quest is hopeless. Man cannot restore, renew or redeem himself, he cannot reintegrate his shattered world by building the kingdom of man and claiming godhood for himself. And yet, everywhere, from the kingdoms of the ancient world to the present people have given themselves over to a man-centred and thereby disintegrating concept of life and society.

We have inherited the destructive Greek idea that the human problem is metaphysical, not ethical. If we just have enough smarts, enough scientific knowledge and rely on the expert, the philosopher-king, we can remake ourselves and the world and save ourselves from chaos and futility. In short, politics can save us so long as the experts have the reins of power. But King Solomon knew, as he searched out life by God’s wisdom, that kings and magi, with all their autonomous learning, were striving after the wind. For without regeneration, “What is crooked, cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted” (Ecc. 1:15).

Unlike the Babylonian and Egyptian thinkers of the ancient world, Solomon understood that man stands in a moral relationship with God, not in metaphysical confusion with the divine. Only by a restoration of man’s relationship to the transcendent personal God of the covenant, his integrating life and restorative word, can man be free from futility, turmoil and the chaos wrought by sin. It is for this reason that 1000 years later, when the magi of Mesopotamia learned of the birth of another King of the Jews, a greater Solomon foretold by the prophets, they went to pay homage and give worship. Kings and sages came from the east to hear Solomon, but they came again to worship Christ – the Son of God – the king and ruler of a greater Kingdom.

Solomon’s God-given wisdom was truly great, and a balm to all who heard it. But even Solomon found great sorrow in his knowledge because although he understood the cause of disintegration, he was powerless to reintegrate man, because he was powerless to remake him. This is why Solomon, great as he was, pales before Jesus Christ who is both “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). Christ alone is able to take our disintegrated lives and make us a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), he alone is able to make us whole again. There remains only one question for us, ‘wilt thou be made whole?’ (John 5:6 KJV).

 

[1] J. Gresham Machen, Education, Christianity and the State (Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation, 1995 [1987]), 50.