On February 3 the Associated Press broke a story that has since generated much chatter via radio, television, print media, and the Internet. Overwhelmingly strong opinions were shared regarding the announcement of the July 14 publication of the novel, Go Set a Watchman the sequel to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The main characters, Atticus, Jem, and Scout [Finch], are well loved by readers throughout the world. Atticus’s unimpeachable character reveals a man whose family, friends, neighbors, and strangers are equal recipients of his integrity, kindness, fairness, and humility. Consequently, for millions of readers encountering these characters again would be a long-awaited treat. It was believed that the manuscript Lee had originally written in the 1950s, before the Pulitzer-Prize winning Mockingbird, had been lost and the interest that this news created was palpable. However mingled with the excitement was one central niggling question: Did Lee freely sanction the publication of this novel or did her lawyer and publisher manipulate her? Given reports of her failing health, many in the press as well as fans of the author believed that Lee had been taken advantage of by these individuals. But was this actually true?
What drives us to seek the truth? Is it curiosity, or the comfort of knowing that we are in possession of definitive answers? Armed with the facts, do we feel more secure in the decisions that we make? Our twenty-first century struggles to recognize truth seem melodramatic when we study Solomon’s plain approach to it. In the Book of Proverbs 20: 20, 21 Solomon boldly asks, “Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth . . . ” (KJV). His confident attitude leaves little room for moral relativism. Initially we may feel chastised by Solomon’s words. Yet, if we are candid about our reaction, indignation may also be present because it is difficult to accept advise from someone who consistently sets rules that others must follow. Confronting the truth for Solomon was perhaps an academic exercise, but not an experience that the rest of us could claim because truth is still not a luxury for most of us.
Therefore it is hard to envision a king being genuinely capable of grasping the consequences of finding and facing the truth. He lived a rarefied life within elite circles. And within this milieu, it is likely that only a few members of the royal court were assertive to the point of speaking truth to Solomon’s power. When reading Proverbs 22-24, Solomon’s manner and message remind us that he is a ruler who is decisive with his instruction and imperial in his tone. And it prompts us to consider Solomon’s commanding style that indicates he is equally at ease declaring statements of truth in Proverbs or pronouncing royal decrees. Did absolute rule result in absolute truth? Is it even realistic for us to expect Solomon’s counsel to be less than sure when addressing matters of “right” and “wrong” given his position in the kingdom where he daily utilized the skill of certainty? Do we perceive the lack of consideration in his words about forgiveness as insensitive to our imperfect selves and by extension, meanness towards the principle of grace? Why would Solomon’s “words of truth” be relevant for us today?
The clue is found in the phrase, “I might make thee know . . .” (Proverbs 20: 21 KJV). He assures us that he has evidence to prove that his counsel is true. A close reading of Proverbs 22-24 reveals to us that his advice is grounded in practicality and equality regarding our actions in how we live as individuals, how we treat one another, and the logical consequences of ignoring these values. All three chapters are rich with this instruction; it is hard to proclaim that one verse is more significant than another. But what is worth highlighting are several of the topics where Solomon lends his wisdom—materialism, revenge, morality, and parenting—since their pertinence for a contemporary audience is crucial and attests to the timelessness of the Book of Proverbs.
In navigating the complexities of the world in which we live, we find ourselves in situations where unveiling the truth looks more like the skewed images reflected in a hall of mirrors than the clear picture we would prefer. Many situations we encounter cannot easily be comprehended in one way. Interactions with family, friends, colleagues, or acquaintances reveal that often there is not a single reason for what prompts human behavior. And neither are our own deeds at all times clear nor driven by rational or virtuous motives, so we, too, are culpable. But once we do identify the truth, what do we do with this knowledge? Candor is not merely to be admired; instead, it must be acted upon in order to achieve redemptive changes in our selves and the impact we make on the lives of others. Unlike the speculation surrounding Lee’s permission for the publication of Go Set a Watchman, Solomon offers us the assurance of explicit truth in Proverbs.
“Harper Lee Plans To Publish A New Novel Featuring 'Mockingbird' Hero.” 3 Feb. 2015. NPR.org. Web.
“Recently Discovered Novel from Harper Lee, Author of To Kill a Mockingbird.” 3 Feb. 2015. HarperCollins.com
Siegel, Lee. “Harper Lee and the Benefit of the Doubt.” NewYorker.com. 10 Feb. 2015. Web.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6666