Wisdom enables us to handle the unpredictable. There’s an unpredictable nature to life that so often seems unfair. We expect those who are talented and gifted, those who work hard and do what is right, to do well, but Solomon says it’s not always that way:
I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability, for time and chance overtake them all. (Eccles. 9:11)
The word overtake can mean “to befall, to bring about, to cause, to fall on.” It conveys the idea that the unpredictable happens in life. We think the fastest runner should win the race, and the greatest warrior should win the battle. We all believe the smartest people become the wealthiest people, but these statements aren’t always true.
Solomon says that men can get trapped by unfair circumstances like fish in a net or birds in a snare (Eccles. 9:12). No one sets out to be trapped or ensnared; it usually happens when least expected. We assume our gifts, talent, ability, winsomeness, and smarts will keep us out of any unfair or unjust situation. So, when something does happen, we get angry, frustrated, and bitter as we focus on the injustice and unfairness of life. It all feels very unpredictable.
Mickey Mantle died in August of 1995. He was one of the last of the legendary American baseball players from the days of the greats. Mantle was one of my heroes, yet I never knew about his personal life until just before his death. Mantle said all of his life, all he wanted to do was play baseball and that God had given him the ability to play exceptionally. But he threw it all away as he became an alcoholic. His wife became an alcoholic as well, and their marriage deteriorated, and tragically their four sons became alcoholics. He stumbled from one affair and drank to the next until he became gravely ill.
In 1995, Mantle underwent a liver transplant, but within weeks took a turn for the worse. In desperation, he called his teammate and friend, Bobby Richardson, a well-known Christian who played with Mantle all his career. In fact, the two had played in seven World Series games together. After talking with Richardson, Mickey Mantle gave his life to Jesus Christ, dying only days later.
Mantle had built his life on his abilities, his charm, his All-American good looks, and his hard work. But in the end, that cost him everything. He was unprepared for what his lifestyle brought him. By the time he came to Christ, it was too late to turn around the consequences of living based on worldly wisdom. A key principle of godly wisdom is this: don’t wait until it’s too late for godly wisdom to be effective in your life.
Just as wisdom will prepare us for the unpredictable, wisdom shows up unpredictably in life. Solomon states in Ecclesiastes 9:13, “Also this I came to see as wisdom under the sun, and it impressed me.” Solomon is impressed with wisdom. That’s significant because very little ever impressed Solomon. The story of Solomon is well known, however questioned at times. Can a man with this kind of wisdom still sin? The answer unequivocally is yes. His desire for so many wives and concubines makes one question how much wisdom he had. Sin causes a lapse in judgment, to say the least. Most Old Testament theologians believe that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes late in life. He had turned evidently back to the Lord who gave him his wisdom. He came back to his senses and expressed great regret for having acted foolishly (see Ecclesiastes 12). Solomon, throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, is called “Preacher” because he preaches the vanity of following your own wisdom instead of God. This is why he is considered the wisest man who ever lived—and he is what we see now with Godly wisdom.
Solomon tells a story of a small city of few men, besieged by a great king who surrounded the city and constructed large siege works against it (Eccles. 9:14). A poor but wise man lived in it and delivered the city by his wisdom. That is all we are told. The city was saved by wisdom from an unpredictable source, a poor man. What is predictable is that the poor man who delivered the city with wisdom was immediately forgotten. But this isn’t too surprising. It is an unfair but not unexpected outcome of life.
God, on the other hand, never forgets what we do. It doesn’t matter how unseen or small our work is. Jesus noted this when He taught, “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward” (Matt. 10:42). While the world may not remember, God never forgets.
Solomon was surprised not only by where wisdom is found but how wisdom triumphs over things that humankind puts confidence in. Solomon wrote that wisdom is better than strength, noise, and firepower (Eccles. 9:16-18). While man thinks he can accomplish great things through strength, thunderous demands, and weaponry, Solomon asserts that wisdom is far more effective than any of these. None of the great king’s pseudo-wisdom could stand against wisdom to give him victory over the small city.
Wisdom will prepare us for the unpredictable, even when godly wisdom is unexpected. It is said that George Frederick Handel composed his amazing oratorio Messiah in approximately twenty-four days. He wrote the music with failing eyesight while facing the possibility of imprisonment for his outstanding debt. In the midst of these challenges and other difficulties, Handel continued to write until the masterpiece, including the majestic “Hallelujah Chorus,” was completed. It was an unexpected and unpredicted brilliance in the midst of the unfairness of life.
Handel later credited the completion of his work to one ingredient: joy. He was quoted as saying that he felt as if his heart would burst with joy at what he was hearing in his mind. Handel, through godly wisdom, was able to navigate the expected and the unpredictable and experienced an explosive internal joy, all because he feared the Lord and leaned on Him.
Every one of us will deal with unfair and unjust situations in life. We cannot avoid them, and we cannot predict them. But godly wisdom allows us to control our response in the situation. The great composer Salieri chose to blame God and spent his last years in misery and bitterness. The great composer Handel chose to let God work in him despite the unfairness. Instead of letting unfairness determine our lives, we can trust that God can bring something unforeseeably magnificent through it.
Taken from God Is For You: Learning to Trust God’s Wisdom Through Life’s Crises by Mac Brunson. Copyright © December 2023 by Invite Press. Used by permission of Invite Press, www.inviteresources.com.
Jason Romano, “Mickey Mantle Gave His Life to Christ on His Death Bed,” SportsSpectrum.com, August 13, 2017, https://sportsspectrum.com/sport/baseball/2017/08/13/mickey-mantle-gave-life-christ-death-bed/
Photo Courtesy: ©GettyImages/AntonioGuillem
Publish Date: February 6, 2024
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.
The Daily Article Podcast is Here!