The ABC’s of Wisdom: Building Character with Solomon - Introduction
Almost everyone agrees that we are living in a day of moral and cultural confusion. Former Secretary of Education William Bennett says that it is almost as if our society has conspired to make it impossible for our children to grow up as decent, moral individuals. He argues that if we want to improve our nation, we must once again dedicate ourselves to the hard work of inculcating virtue in the lives of our children. We must teach them about things like justice, humility, honesty, hard work, thrift, self-control, kindness, and perseverance.
But William Bennett is not the only one saying these things. Newsweek magazine recently published a cover story titled “The New Virtue-Crats.” The lead article reported that 76 percent of all Americans surveyed agree that our nation is in a serious moral and spiritual decline. Although we can argue about why it happened or even about how it happened, the fact itself seems to be beyond debate. Somewhere, somehow, we as a people lost the concept of character and virtue.
Chuck Colson argues that for the first time in our history we have raised an entire generation of young people who have no conscience. Since their parents had no solid moral foundation, they had nothing to pass along to their children. As a result, many young people today do not know the difference between right and wrong.
As a result of losing the concept of absolute standards, we have entered what Newsweek calls “the age of enlightenment skepticism,” where it’s OK for you, but not OK for me; it’s right for you, but not right for me; wrong for you, but not wrong for me; you’ve got your way and I’ve got my way. But if there are no absolute standards, then dishonesty is just as good as honesty, hatred is just as noble as compassion, and laziness is as commendable as hard work.
If America is going to change, the hearts of people have to change one by one. That can only happen as Christians begin to live by moral standards that truly are not of this world. As we face an increasingly skeptical society, we must consciously demonstrate a superior kind of ethical behavior, for we can preach all we want, but until others see the difference incarnated in us, it will be all talk, just another Sunday morning sermon.
All that I have written so far may sound rather gloomy-and indeed there are dark clouds on the national horizon. But here is where the good news begins. If virtue is what we need, then I know where we can go to find it. Three thousand years ago the wisest man who ever lived (with the exception of Jesus Himself) wrote down the fundamental principles of moral behavior that have informed Jewish and Christian thinking ever since. In fact, those truths laid the foundation for what we know today as Western civilization.
I am speaking of the ancient book of Proverbs. King Solomon wrote most of the book. It was evidently intended to be an ancient Book of Virtues for the young people of his day. It represents the distilled wisdom of the ages. His sentences are direct and to the point. He never uses three words when two will do. He doesn’t preach in the normal sense of that word, nor does he threaten. In hundreds of pithy sayings he sets forth the basic principles of moral behavior.
In this book we are going to take a look at one hundred areas of moral and spiritual concern. You should know right up front that this is not a commentary on Proverbs. It is instead a practical handbook for virtuous living based on the sayings of Solomon.
One final note and we’re ready to begin. Please don’t feel compelled to read this book straight through. Actually, I hope you won’t do that. You’ll get the greatest benefit from reading one section at a time and pondering the questions at the end. The sections are arranged alphabetically to make it easy to find the topics of greatest interest to you.
This book is not really about children or even for children. But I do believe that the up-and-coming generation needs to heed these words. For that matter, we could all benefit from some practical, down-to-earth teaching about what is right and what is wrong and how to treat the people we meet every day.