I recently finished watching the Netflix Original series Bloodline. It was painful to watch. The series tells the story of the Rayburns, a family who consistently makes destructive choices in their misguided efforts to protect themselves. In essence, Bloodline is a cautionary tale, pointing out the danger of self-interested and rudderless decision-making. Fortunately, King Solomon, in this week’s readings, models for us a different sort of discernment and helps us reflect on what holy decision-making looks like.
We see in Solomon someone who is rooted in his relationship with God. In God, he has a firm foundation. This sort of rootedness is necessary when we face the sometimes disorienting process of making life decisions. By definition, making a decision entails a choice that will lead us, and often those close to us, down a different path. It moves us into the unknown and into a place where we need to place our trust in God as we try to find our way within new circumstances. With God as the foundation of our decision-making, we are assured that we are not alone.
King Solomon also knows that if he seeks God’s will, he will never stray too far from the right path. If we step back from the narrative of this week’s reading for a bit, we realize that his process of discernment started even earlier. The process started with Solomon’s prayerful awareness of God’s desire to give him a gift. For, indeed, following God’s will is a gift. God’s will is not something imposed on us by a capricious deity. Rather, God wills us to be the most fully alive, the most fully human, and the most fully capable of love. As the prophet Jeremiah reminds us, God’s plans for us are for peace, and not disaster (Jeremiah 29:11). By seeking God’s will in our decision-making, we are opening ourselves up to God’s grace in our lives. We open ourselves up to gift.
Seeing God’s will as a gift is what enables the psalmist to proclaim his love for the law. The law of God is meant to guide us toward the will of God. As such, it is indeed “better than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Ps 119). The law is meant to free us and lead us toward the decisions that will be the most life-giving. This is a rather different way to approach the law. We often see the moral and ethical guidelines of our faith as impositions from a domineering institutional church. But the law, in the scriptural sense, is meant to create the conditions for healthy human community. It is a font of wisdom to help us make holy and life-giving decisions. It is meant to be a path to communion with God who is infinite love.
A love for the law, however, does not mean that we park our consciences and intellects at the door. Here again, Solomon provides the template. He asks God for the gift of a wise and discerning mind. And God praises him for this! He is praised because he is willing to engage the best of his intellectual capacities to make wise decisions for his people. The wisdom of Solomon comes from his willingness to root his thinking and discernment in relationship, relationship with God and God’s people.
Perhaps the key difference between Solomon and the Rayburns, for example, is that he is willing to choose what best for the community. He asks for a gift that will help him better serve his people. He does not — and the Lord commends him for this — allow himself to be motivated purely by self-interest and self-preservation. The paradox, of course, is that choosing what is best for the community benefits the individual as well. This is true in our times too. Working to ensure the common good, building social safety nets and attending to the needs of those on the margins creates healthier and safer communities for us all.
We may not have the responsibilities of King Solomon, but we are each called to make decisions, big and small, every day of our lives. These decisions will have an impact on the course of history, if only in the humblest sense. We are assured that God is with us in our discernment, that God’s will is gift, and that the law of God will support us. Our decisions, rooted in relationship with God and others, will indeed reflect the wisdom of Solomon!
Rompré is the director of Mission and Ministry at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon.