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Wisdom in Culture

God can teach us and we can glorify Him through culture.

And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore. Thus Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the men of the East and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men—than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were one thousand and five. 1 Kings 4.29-32

Culture and glory
Solomon was diligent in studying creation and everyday life; he also accomplished many works of culture, drawing on the wisdom he gained from the Law and creation, and preserving that wisdom, through culture, for the generations to come. His proverbs, songs, and works reflected his vision of God and His works. We continue to this day to benefit from the writings Solomon left for us.

People are inescapably cultural. We make and use culture every day. Solomon understood this, and in his work of culture he demonstrated how we may discern and make use of the wisdom of God.

Solomon’s father, King David, had written that it pleased God to receive gifts from all kinds of people, so that He Himself might inhabit those gifts, to manifest His glory and wisdom (Ps. 68.18). In this case, what He received was all the many cultural resources, large and small, that the people contributed for building the temple of the Lord (1 Chron. 29.1-9). Accordingly, in his quest to gain the wisdom of God, Solomon set himself to understand and create culture. The works of God in culture, like His works in creation, can yield much wisdom to help us realize a good conscience and a strong soul for serving God and others.

This only makes sense, for, since no human society has ever existed without culture, it would have been impossible to rule Israel well apart from some understanding of how culture should be used to encourage and express the wisdom and glory of God.

Solomon understood that works of culture have powerful ability to shape and serve a nation; but they must be used in a manner consistent with what God has revealed in His Law if they are to manifest the wisdom of God. So, just as Solomon studied the Law and the creation in pursuit of the wisdom of God, he also set his mind to understand culture, and his hands to bring wisdom through cultural artifacts to the people of Israel.

A man of culture
Solomon’s cultural interests and achievements were many and great. He understood the ways of poetry, music, and folk wisdom, as 1 Kings 4.32 makes clear in referring to his penchant for composing songs and proverbs. He knew that such cultural forms and expressions could be important means of communicating the wisdom of God.

In pithy proverbial sayings and memorable songs, God can encapsulate much wisdom that can serve us in all kinds of ways. Many have found that, by reading one chapter a day from the book of Proverbs, they learn the wisdom of God and practice it more consistently.

But Solomon’s engagement with culture did not stop with music and musings; the King of Israel sought the wisdom of God for great works of public art and architecture. We see the detail with which Solomon attended to the building of God’s temple, using only the finest materials, according to the most lavish of plans, to create a workable and glorious structure for the worship and glory of the Lord (1 Kgs. 6).

He also built a great palace, gardens, parks, pools, vineyards, stables, and houses. He testifies that he was guided by wisdom in building all these things (Eccl. 2.3), and so we can believe that, like the temple, there was much of the wisdom of God to be observed in the cultural achievements of Solomon.

Culture cannot save a people; indeed, in many ways culture can undermine belief in God and set people on a course of degradation and self-destruction. But God is present in the work of culture, even among those who do not know Him, leaving a witness to Himself and thus to His wisdom for all who know how to seek the glory He has deposited in the forms of culture (Acts 14.17; Prov. 25.2).

Culture-making
In his book, Making Culture, Andy Crouch insists that every believer is a culture-maker. We all use language, enjoy music, select various kinds of décor and couture, indulge certain diversions and intellectual activities, and make use of many other forms of culture, all of which say something about who we are and what we desire. Thus, we all have abundant opportunities to seek the Lord and manifest His wisdom in our day-to-day lives with and in culture. From our use of all these forms of culture and more we may learn and express the wisdom of God.

A good conscience works to bring our Kingdom values to light in wisdom through all the cultural forms we make and use. Understanding culture and discerning the glory and wisdom of God in it can thus be powerful resources for shaping the soul and maintaining a good conscience.

But if we would know God’s wisdom through our cultural activities, we must be willing, like Solomon, to understand the nature and use of culture and to bring our cultural lives under the searchlight of God’s Word. Only then will we have the discernment we need to benefit from culture rather than be overwhelmed and corrupted by it.

We can learn much about the wisdom of God through culture, and we can show His wisdom through our cultural lives to the people around us.

But we must study carefully and think clearly if we would realize the wisdom of God by this means.

For reflection
1.  Make a quick list of the different aspects of culture in which you are daily engaged. Meditate on 1 Corinthians 10.31. How can the culture you use bring glory to God?

2.  Can we learn God’s wisdom from culture? From music, let’s say? Or the history of our country? Give an example of how an item of culture has taught you about the wisdom of God.

3.  Your work is an aspect of culture. Should we seek God’s wisdom for our work? Should others be able to discern God’s wisdom in the way we do our work? Give some examples.

Next steps – Conversation: Can you think of a film you’ve seen that communicated something of wisdom? Explain.

T. M. Moore

All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here.

Two books can help you in thinking about culture and how to use it wisely. Christians on the Front Lines of the Culture Wars looks at Jesus’ use of culture to discern the wisdom and God and use it for His glory. And Redeeming Pop Culture provides practical steps for avoiding the pitfalls and discovering the beauty and wisdom in pop forms. You can learn more about each book and order free copy of each by clicking here and here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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