The Smartest Man in the Room - Scene 3: "The Quickest Trip from Wisdom to Foolishness"
Like the character of Don Draper from "Mad Men," Solomon had a problem with self-indulgence. He denied himself nothing, and then soon realized that when you constantly deny yourself nothing, you end up with nothing.
Solomon seemed like he had everything, though.
Solomon had 700 "princess wives" and 300 concubines at his disposal. The princess wives were the by-product of alliances with other tribes, nations and kings. Their purpose was to strengthen his position in the world and produce children to spread his legacy. The concubines were for... other reasons. Even his drinking glasses were priceless.
Mine are mix and matchers from a few different sets. We have kids. They break stuff.
Then we find out later that he uses slave labor from his own kingdom to build his buildings, palaces and cities.
How did he fall so far?
How does something like this happen to someone who knows better? How did Solomon forget who he really was? What was it that made him turn from being a good king, who followed God, kept His commandments and worshipped rightly to a lousy king who enslaved his people, worshipped other gods, and lived a debauched and pointless life?
These kinds of things don't happen overnight. But when you realize they've happened, it can feel like it.
When I was a young man I had one of those revelatory moments when I woke up and realized that I had made a series of terrible mistakes that landed me in the unenviable position of being completely and totally up the proverbial creek without the proverbial paddle... or a canoe... or a life vest... I was basically in the creek up to my neck and getting pulled down stream toward a huge whirlpool... that had a kraken in it...
You get the picture.
How did this happen? Well, I started believing my own press. I was working at Disney at the time and was just starting to work my way into leadership roles that paid more, and got me way more attention. Some of this attention was from girls, who seemed to dig me. I can understand why, you understand. I was a fine specimen of manhood---weighing in about 150 pounds with huge round glasses that were supposedly fashionable in 1987---but I wonder...
The problem that I had, however, was that I had been in a relationship with a beautiful, smart, talented, awesome and beautiful girl... Did I mention beautiful? Did I also mention that I am now married to her? The story ended well, but this particular chapter was not a good one.
I started taking steps---a flirt here, a flirt there... a conversation here, a conversation there... and then I started thinking to myself, "Leon---my man---there is just so much of you to go around, brother. You are doing the world of women a disservice by withholding yourself." And I believed myself, which most of the time is a really bad idea. So, it wasn't long after this revelation that I broke up with that beautiful, smart, talented, awesome and beautiful girl and set about spreading the awesome around.
Eight months later I was miserable and missing that beautiful girl, and I tried to make things right. But they couldn't be made right then. Too much damage had been done, and her heart was too broken to be put back together so soon.
After she told me that it was really over, I found myself sitting in Waffle House on the corner of Hiawassee and Colonial Drive at three in the morning, drinking coffee and listening to some awful George Strait song. And I wondered how I got there. But I knew deep inside that it didn't just happen overnight. I took one step and then another...
This is something that is true for all of us. We plot our course for a trip and decide that we know better than the GPS how to get there. Only the GPS is a new one that is actually connected to a satellite that is aware of road closures, road work and really bad accidents---and most of us aren't Nostradamus so we don't know these things. So you find yourself lost or sitting in a fourteen hour backup in the interstate---wondering how you got there.
Or maybe you did follow your GPS, but it's one of those really old Garmin's that you duct taped to your dash---and it leads you right into a lake. I am pretty sure that happened in real life a few times.
Maybe you chose not to listen to your Mom when you walked out the door without your sweater, your wallet, your extra clothes or your good sense. Or you didn't listen to your Dad and fill your car up with gas before you drove off into the sunset with your friends...
And then you find yourself on the side of the road, shivering, with no money and wish like heck you had listened to Mom and Dad instead of just rolling your eyes. And you wonder how you got there.
What about when we start to take steps that compromise the things that we really hold dear.
Like our honesty... in that moment when you realize that you got two extra pairs of pants that the store didn't charge you for, and you decide they already made enough money from you... we take that first step and then another...
Or our character... when we decide not to report to the IRS that extra income that we received this year, or we share a little juicy gossip about that co-worker that is always competing against us... we take that first step, and then another...
Or maybe our morality... when we give in to our desires to have just one crazy fling with that man, or woman we've been flirting with, or we pop just one more prescription pain med so we can get through the day... or we tell ourselves that one more "liquid lunch" won't matter, that no one will notice...
Here's the thing. Just like Solomon we have the propensity to move from wisdom to foolishness. And just like Solomon we can find ourselves at the end of the journey wondering how we got there, and if there was any purpose to it all.
I want you to hear this clearly.
The journey from wisdom to foolishness begins with a single step... then another... and another...
Solomon's fall didn't happen overnight.
Let's read what happened to him:
11 King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. 2 They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.”This is the command from God... now listen what comes next:
Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love.Nevertheless... that's an important word and a big moment.
3 He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. 5 He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. 7 On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. 8 He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.There is a reason why the writer of this passage continues to use the word "detestable." All of these gods demanded child sacrifice. This is what Solomon had become.
9 The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. 10 Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. 11 So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. 12 Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.
I Kings 11:1-13
Quickly, let's go back in time just a bit to 1 Kings chapter 3. Life is good for Solomon then. He had that little visit from God in the middle of the night. He's building the Temple, doing his thing. But right at the beginning of the chapter we have this:
Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of the Lord, and the wall around Jerusalem.Just one little verse... just one little step... and just like that Solomon began his journey of inviting godlessness, immorality, idolatry and faithlessness into his life. Intermarriage in the Hebrew tradition was connected to inter religious experience, and Solomon fell headlong into it. The Scripture says that he "held fast" to his love for these women. In Deuteronomy, God commanded his people to hold fast to his covenant with them and the commands that defined it. Solomon turns from this in fairly dramatic ways.
He lost his "first love" and never truly found it again.
Then he wrote words like these:
So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
In the television show "Mad Men," Don Draper has a conversation with a woman he eventually has an affair with---but in this moment he speaks to her about love in the same spirit as Solomon...
There's that quote again... "You're born alone and you die alone..." But now we see it in it's proper context. Love doesn't exist to Don Draper. It was invented to sell nylons.
All of it is meaningless... a chasing after the wind.
Don Draper didn't come to this understanding overnight. It began with one falsehood, then another... One compromise, then another... One betrayal, then another...
And so he journeyed---to this place where everything is meaningless and there is no love, and in the moments when he isn't trying to impress anyone he wonders how he got there.
Where has this been true for you?
What compromises have you made in your life that led to more compromises... and then still more?
Was it in a relationship? You tell yourself that you can fix him... you can change her... you can deal with their lack of faith, their addiction, their abuse... And then you find yourself wondering how you got there.
Or you drink yourself into a stupor every single night to the pain of your family and friends. Even though your father was an alcoholic, or your mother... but you swore you wouldn't become one... And you wonder how you got there.
Or you find yourself angry at God, or indifferent to God, or afraid of God. Even though you used to be so in love with Him and so happy to just live your life stumbling after Jesus... And you wonder how you got there.
What stories are you telling yourself about why you made those compromises?
Are they good ones? Full of reasons, and promises to change? Can you even remember the moment when you took that first step, or was it so long ago and so many steps ago that you can't remember what it felt like to be well, right, at peace, full of faith?
Lance Armstrong was a seven-time winner of the Tour de France race---the premier bicycling race in the world. But now he is stripped of those honors and much more because he cheated. He doped himself and then covered it up for years until it was so obvious that he could no longer do so. In interviews Armstrong acknowledges how he let so many people down, ruined his legacy, tarnished the sport and much more.
But all he will say about why he did it is that he wanted to compete, to do better, to achieve under the intense pressure of his celebrity.
If you were to pin him down and ask him pointedly about how all it started, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would tell you... "I just did it once... and then I did it again... and again..." He rationalized, which led to experimenting, which led to addiction and then to lying and then to ruin.
Here's the good news... you thought we wouldn't get there, did you?
It's true that the journey from wisdom to foolishness begins with a single step... and then another... But the journey back begins with a single step to Jesus.
It doesn't matter how many steps you've made down the path of destruction. All it takes is one step toward Jesus and you will be made whole.
It's never too late to take that step. When we read the stories of Jesus death in the Bible, we discover that he was crucified on a cross---the ancient and cruel way Romans executed seditious and traitorous people---he was crucified in between two thieves, men who deserved their punishment.
Their journey had started with a step in the wrong direction. One of the thieves railed at Jesus, rejecting him and cursing him. The other said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom." In that one moment, at the end of his life, when it seemed like there was no chance for him, this man took a step toward Jesus. All of the steps in his journey to destruction didn't matter at that point. Jesus turned to him and said...
"Today, you will be with me in Paradise."
Imagine what life could be like after taking that step. Free. Forgiven. Saved.
It's not too late. It's never too late. Start living again. Fall in love again. Feel joy again. Look in the mirror with joy and smile as you ask yourself, "How did I get here in this wonderful place?" And then answer... "Oh, yeah. I took that step... that one wonderful step toward Jesus... and my journey changed forever."