The Word Embodied
The Higher Wisdom
A heart, wise and understanding. (Kings 3:12).
Some prominent sages have written that the root desires of human existence are the pride of power, the accumulation of money, and the experience of pleasure. Thinkers like Hobbes, Ayn Rand, Machiavelli, and the Marquis de Sade have built great ideologies on one of the competing life-goals of sex, power, and money.
This opinion is not limited to ivory tower theoreticians; it’s expressed in the language of ordinary people when they appeal to the “real” motives lurking behind all human actions: “Looking out for Number One,” “We’re all out for a buck,” “Everybody’s on the make.”
The billions spent on advertising presume, quite successfully, that the foundations of all value and meaning are things, privilege, and self-indulgence.
A computer ad announces that you can “Satisfy Your Lust for Power and Money,” in a new reconstruction of the ancient religious vows. Reformulations of Descartes’s “Cogito ergo sum,” appear as “I want, therefore I am,” “I shop, therefore I am,” “I win, therefore I am.”
Yamaha says, “Beat thy neighbor.” Nike Corporation has even mounted an entire advertising campaign on the celebration of pleasure: “We are all basically hedonists. That’s what makes us human. And we all want, all we’ve ever wanted is to have a good time. If it feels good, then just do it.”
It was not a marketing huckster, but Solomon’s God who offered in a dream, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” As it turned out, it was not a good time that Solomon sought. While most people might ask for bliss or some prized object identified with fulfillment—an advertiser’s dream, to be sure—Solomon requested wisdom.
Perhaps that is why God seems a bit amazed (if God can be amazed) by the fact that Solomon’s deepest desire is not for a long life or riches or success over enemies, but for a heart that can distinguish right from wrong. Solomon, famous for his riches, found his real treasure in a wise and understanding heart. It was in knowing right from wrong that he found joy.
What is our treasure that, once found, is worth all we can sell or trade? What is the pearl of great price for which we would sacrifice everything? This is what the gospel’s reign of God is about: our hearts’ desire, our deepest existential longing.
Some seek pleasures in every variation imaginable. They fall away sated but restless. Some build shrines to the ego’s power. They die alone, unloved, and uncaring. Others collect their things to die, like the movies’ Citizen Kane, empty of substance.
Solomon dreamed long ago that a higher wisdom and deeper joy might be found. It would not be grasped in the accumulation of things, the collection of earthly delights, or dominance over others, even though these would be given to him in good time.
His deepest desire was to know a good that was fully worth loving. His highest hope was to know what was right and to be able to do it. God saw this higher wisdom in him, this pearl of great price, and Solomon’s wish was granted.
For the treasures of his heart, not his mines, Solomon is rightly remembered.
John Kavanaugh, SJ
Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He reached many people during his lifetime.
**From Saint Louis University