Albert Einstein. E=MC². His name is synonymous with smarts.
People don’t say, “You don’t have to be an Edison to figure it out.” Or, “You don’t have to be a Bill Gates to figure it out.” Or, “You don’t have to be a Carl Sagan to figure it out.”
Instead, they say, “You don’t have to be an Einstein to figure it out.”
He was a genus which earned him the Nobel Prize in physics.
Every now and then exhibits that focus on Einstein will pop-up at museums and science centers.
One in New York City a few years back had you walk in the door where you were immediately greeted with a view of yourself as seen through a black hole. Then, as you walk through the displays, you learned how light travels, why time warps, and what makes stars shine.
No doubt, Einstein was an amazing genus—and most amazing of all was what Albert Einstein accomplished in a single year—1905. In 1905, at the age of 26, Einstein published three groundbreaking papers that provided the blueprint for much of modern science.
The first was on the motion of particles suspended in liquid.
Second was on the photoelectric effect, the release of electrons from metal when light shines on it.
Third, and perhaps most famous, Einstein published his theory of relativity, which led to the shocking conclusion that time is not constant, and neither is weight nor mass.
In just one single year, Einstein’s work led to the discovery of: X-ray crystallography, DNA, the photoelectric effect, vacuum tubes, transistors and the mechanics of the information age. 1905. What a year.
Now while Einstein’s work was transformative in so many positive ways, it was transformative in negative ways too. You see, his work around that time also laid the groundwork for the atomic bomb. When the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Einstein’s immediate response was “Vey iz mir” … “Woe is me.”
The pro-bomb position that he took during the Second World War turned into pacifism by the end of his life. The mushroom cloud that validated so many brilliant theories brought no joy to this genius, but instead only woe. “Vey iz mir.”
That is precisely the response we often have when our wisdom turns out not to be so wise at all, when the trouble we’re in is of our own making, when the plans we’ve devised implode under the weight of their own foolishness, when we think we’re acting judiciously and with prudence, but the outcome is anything but.
So the question becomes then—How can we have wisdom without the woe?
It is essential to have a discerning mind and to understand that human wisdom can lead to both good and to evil.
Experiments on stem cells derived from human embryos can unlock cures for disease, but may also undercut the dignity of embryonic life.
Advances in computer technology create amazing tools for education and business, but produce incredible amounts of toxic waste when outdated computers are thrown away.
The clearing of land and the building of homes can provide wonderful quality of life for new generations, but these actions can also degrade the environment and reduce biodiversity.
Einstein was one of the smartest humans in history, and yet he ended his career feeling that his creations had slipped beyond his control.
So how do we discern whether our actions are going to lead to good or to evil?
In the text for today, Solomon has assumed the throne of Israel from his father David, and now has to decide what his focus will be as the new king of Israel. He already knows very well that royal power can be used both for good and for evil— something his father demonstrated throughout the roller-coaster ride of his 40-year reign.
It can lead to faithfulness and success, or it can lead to shame. He has to figure out how he will create one and avoid the other—and to do so, he goes to God.
Since there is not yet a temple in Jerusalem, Solomon goes to a high place called Gibeon to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. While he is in Gibeon, the Lord appears to Solomon, and God says, “Ask what I should give you.”
That’s a heck of a question—from God no less. What do you want me to give you? Makes you wonder what you might ask for if God were to give you a carte blanche offer.
Solomon could ask for anything— long life, riches, victory over his enemies. He could ask for popularity, or political power, or romantic success.
But Solomon asks for none of these. Instead, he says to God, “Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.”
More than anything else, Solomon wants wisdom, which he knows will enable him to discern what is right and wrong.
It pleases the Lord that Solomon asks this. In fact, God is so delighted that God gives the new king a wise and discerning mind, and on top of that gives him several additional benefits that he hasn’t even requested: riches, honor, and long life. It turns out that an understanding mind is at the very top of God’s desires for us.
Isn’t it interesting—asking for wisdom was an incredibly wise thing to do!
So if wisdom comes to us when we are wise enough to seek out God and ask for such, the next question becomes—How can we exercise this kind of wisdom? We need to begin by grasping that true wisdom involves the heart as well as the head.
This is no knock against the accumulation of knowledge, against the pursuit of knowledge, or against the discipline necessary to acquire it. But knowledge acquired is not necessarily wisdom dispensed.
Knowledge resides in the brain. Wisdom goes beyond just the brain— which is what Einstein discovered when his greatest insights started a chain reaction which led to the cry of despair, “Vey iz mir” … “Woe is me.”
Unless intellectual lucidity includes heartfelt compassion and concern for the welfare of people, it will lead to woe upon woe upon woe upon woe.
Solomon demonstrates very quickly that his wisdom is both brain smart and heartfelt. Soon after his dream at Gibeon, two women come and stand before him—and unfolds a story we all know.
The women live in the same house, and both have babies, but in the middle of the night one of them rolls over and crushes the other to death.
They argue about which one of them is the true mother of the remaining child, with one saying, “No, the living son is mine, and the dead son is yours,” and the other saying, “No, the dead son is yours, and the living son is mine.”
Solomon’s solution is to ask for a sword, where he says, “Divide the living boy in two; then give half to the one, and half to the other.”
The woman whose son is alive says to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him!” But the other woman says, “It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.”
Then Solomon, in his heart-shaped wisdom, pronounces, “Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him.” It was wisdom, not knowledge, that made Solomon aware that only a true mother would be willing to part with her son in order to spare his life.
Solomon was wise. He knew how to make decisions—but he also knew and cared people. He had a head and he had a heart—and he used both together. That was exercising wisdom.
Now it is one thing to ask for wisdom. It is one thing to invoke wisdom in decision making moments. But when it comes to having and using the wisdom of God, there must be other factors at work.
Wisdom also involves obedience.
It is said, wisdom walks in the light of the revealed word—meaning a wise person walks in God’s ways and keeps God’s commandments. No need to agonize over issues of honesty, integrity, faithfulness, love, trust, greed, envy, slander, gossip and the like because when we walk with God, we replace the human tendency to go our own way, believing we know best—and instead go the way that God’s Holy spirit is leading us. Being obedient to God is the wise way.
Another factor when invoking Godly wisdom is the understanding that wisdom always wears the cloak of love. After all, the greatest wisdom is to love God and neighbor. That’s what Jesus said, believed, and lived.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
Wisdom flows from knowledge, but wisdom is also informed by our emotions—our heart.
For certain, wisdom brings power—but a wise person knows to never abuse such power by forgetting to be obedient, compassionate, and loving. Therefore, if our discoveries don’t help us to act in truly loving ways, then we need to find another path to travel.
Great minds have always sensed this, whether they were kings of Israel or winners of the Nobel Prize. In fact, Albert Einstein himself said, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”
Wisdom requires not only a good mind but a loving heart, and a willingness to walk in God’s ways. Any other path leads to a world of woe.
So may we, like Solomon, skip the prayers for power, fame, fortune, achievement, long life—the things of this world. May we, unlike Einstein, always use our abilities for the building up of life. And may we pray that God blesses us with Godly wisdom.
For when we do, and when we are granted such, then we can be certain that the works and actions of our lives will never lead us to say “Vey iz mir” “Woe is me.” Amen.