You Can Father Yourself (Proverbs 1)

The book of Proverbs isn’t a collection of ancient life-hacks. It’s a wakeup call for people on the cliff of destruction. It’s not for life-hackers. It’s for desperate, broken people who are drowning in the consequences of years of bad choices, bad habits, and tragic relationships. Solomon sets the stage for this book with three facts about wisdom:

1. You can be better.

2. You can father yourself.

3. Wisdom is not a short-term strategy. 

1. You can be better.

Every man has a life, and that life is a kingdom, and that kingdom reflects the state of that man’s heart. When Solomon begins the book of Proverbs, he doesn’t say, “My father should have taught me these things, but he didn’t.” He doesn’t say, “I shouldn’t have had to teach my things, and you shouldn’t have to teach yourself these things. Life is a merciless wreck. Discipline is impossible. You can never become who you want to be.”

No. There is a golden thread in all of Solomon’s thought. It guides all of his wisdom. It guides all of his advice. It guides all of his insight into godliness, self-control, and ruling the inner and outer domains of male life. What is the key to Solomon’s temple? What is the secret of wisdom?

You can be better.

You can be better.

You can be better.

Don’t ever tell yourself that self-improvement is hopeless. Don’t ever tell yourself that you’re too far gone. Don’t ever tell yourself that you don’t have the power to get up, dust yourself off, wipe away your tears, emerge from your apathetic fog, pick up a sword, and start training. He begins the book: 

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)

You can start training today for two reasons, Solomon says: (1) if you’re really bad at becoming a better person, you can become better at becoming a better person, and (2) you need to start being better, because there is a God, and he commands your sword, and you are a soldier in his ranks. That’s where you must begin, Solomon says. You can be better at being better, and it is unfathomably worthwhile to achieve self-improvement. You say to yourself: “I’ve tried so many times to be better, but I just can’t. It’s because I’m so sinful.”  

Garbage.

False.

Untrue.

You are strong. You are equipped. Don’t arrogantly despise the gifts and the power with which God has endowed you as an image-bearer. Even when you get bludgeoned in the head, you can focus your eyes long enough to get your bearings. So get your bearings. The only reason you think you can’t be better than you are is because you have accepted your mental fog, and your moral failings, as immutable and insurmountable. We as men so commonly accept as normal what is harmful and toxic to us because we “despise wisdom and instruction,” because we have failed to fear God.

You can be better.

2. You can father yourself.

Solomon writes:

“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,

and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” (Proverbs 1:8)

Most men grow up disconnected from their fathers. I certainly did. Your dad is like a god, and as you get older, you realize how poorly he equipped you for life. It’s easy to become resentful of him. The older you get, the more you find yourself entangled in sins. You wonder: “Why didn’t you train me? Why didn’t you prepare me? Why didn’t you help me become the best man I could be?”  

We find ourselves being normal men. And normal men are ill-equipped to engage in concentrated battle with the demons that he meets as an adolescent, which will seek for the rest of their lives to drag them down to Hell. Men do not have the software programmed into them to fight the viruses of the world.

That’s how the book of Proverbs begins. Solomon, the great redactor and author of the book of Proverbs, decides to end the cycle of resentment. Everything came so easy for his father, David, who was always too gifted and overly prepared to defeat his combatants. Solomon had darker demons. He saw the real possibility that, in a single generation, the Davidic kingdom could slide from light into darkness—all hanging on whether he allowed his heart to slide from light to darkness.

Solomon breaks the cycle of resentment by taking full responsibility for himself, and setting by example the moral ownership the reader ought to replicate. He doesn’t say: “Resolve your past, then seek to do good.” He doesn’t say, “If you didn’t have a dad, it’s okay if you don’t want to heed wisdom.” No. This book was redacted and replicated over millennia, and the fatherhood of the redactors of Proverbs toward the reader serves as a paternal proxy for us.

None of us had perfect fathers. Far from it. But we have the book of Proverbs. And what is the most important thing sons need to know before they become fathers? To have a moral principle for which you’re willing to give your life. Brag about it. Wear it on your sleeve: “For they are a graceful garland for you hear and pendants for your neck” (Proverbs 1:9). If you don’t have moral principles, you will die. You will become the bad guy. You will become an accomplice to evil. You will be dragged by the worst evils in this world to join their ranks. You will become culpable for the harm of many.

Human beings are powerful. That’s why spiritual warfare exists. In spiritual currency, human choice is the gold standard. It has more cash value than anything else in this world, which God has deigned to sanctify as the plane of combat for significant events. And if you fail to identify and live with integrity according to certain moral principles, you are already a frog boiling in a pot.

“My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, ‘Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason; like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we shall find precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse’—my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths” (Proverbs 1:10-16).

It doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to walk in their paths. As Jordan Peterson says, “Do what is meaningful, not what is expedient.” If you are expedient in one area of life, you will be expedient in every area of life. And if you don’t have a guiding moral principle—an ideal for which you would give your life—then you’re already a part of this group of thieves. You’re a nameless, faceless animal in the get-for-yourself world. If you don’t have a moral principle guiding your behaviors, it will be impossible for you to say “No” to evil. It will be impossible. 

Find one, and wear it. Let them call you a goody two shoes. Let them call you a little Christian boy. Let them call you a cuck. And they will. But you’re being a man. He who lives his life according to an incorruptible moral principle is a bare-chested, red-blooded, admirable leader. That’s not just a fairytale, comic book, Dark Knight cliché. That’s my life and death each day—whether I will remember. 

3. Wisdom Is Not a Short-Term Strategy

You don’t have to climb a mountain to get wisdom. You don’t have to wrestle a grizzly bear to get wisdom. You don’t have to lift a herculean amount of weight to get wisdom. It’s right there. All you have to do is take a couple minutes in the morning to orient yourself. What’s the essence of wisdom? It’s not perfection. It’s not being holier-than-thou. It’s not age.

Wisdom is just direction.

Wisdom is merely your direction.

Wisdom is just direction. 

Solomon personifies wisdom, and writes: “Wisdom cries aloud in the street … ‘If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you” (Proverbs 1:23). What do you need to do to be wise? Perfect yourself? No. Build a track record? No. Study for 8 hours? No. Pray for an hour in your closet? No. “Turn.” That’s all it says. “If you turn at my reproof … I will make my words known to you.”

If you know how to turn in the right direction, the path will make itself known to you. What does this look like? You wake up in the morning—you want to masturbate. Do you do it? No. Oh, guess what? You did. What do you do now? You turn. Your day isn’t ruined. We’re not trying to build a track record. We’re trying to turn in the right direction as often as we can.

Next obstacle—you want to unload your emotional anxiety on your spouse as soon as they wake up. What do you do? You center yourself. You turn from that path. You choose to be strong: “whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster” (Proverbs 1:33). Be steady. Turn toward God.

Wisdom is right there.

That’s Solomon’s point.

Wisdom is right there for the taking.

It’s not on top of a mountain.

It’s not elusive.

It’s not imaginary.

It’s right there. 

People have developed entire skillsets to learn how to avoid God—how to avoid wisdom. Solomon, writing as the voice of Wisdom, says: “the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them” (Proverbs 1:32). Life is like a man suspended in the air. Think of like that. And wisdom—which is practice moral principles—is a plane taking you somewhere. That’s why traditional values are important. It’s a list of endorsements from people of the past who have taken the plane: “This is the plane that gets you to the place you want to go.”

Sin, and foolishness, and refusal to improve yourself, is like a man falling out of a skyscraper. The entire time he’s falling out of the building, there’s no pain. He’s fine. He’s floating in the air. And then, one day, destruction finds him. That’s how the Bible often speaks of calamity and death—as a net, a trap, a sudden calamity. There is coming a day when all of your reluctance to make yourself better—all of your juking and avoiding God—will reap a harvest of destruction on you. Solomon writes: “Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me” (Proverbs 1:28).

Conclusion 

Wisdom isn’t retrospective. It has no value for your past. Wisdom only has value for your future. It’s made of small, component parts. You can’t build wisdom in a manner of days, and you can’t reap the benefits of wisdom in a manner of days. You need wisdom to push forward: “I can be better. I can turn in the direction of wisdom today.”

We forget how to dig deep for discipline, for vision, for clarity, for purpose—and we settle for fog, complacency, apathy—because we forget what we’re fighting for. We need to dig into whatever aggressive energy we can find, and pursue every chance to turn toward wisdom that we can find. But if you don’t have a moral principle, that turning will be hollow and frail. In The Two Towers, after being rid of possession of the demonic wizard Saruman, Gandalf says to King Theoden: “Your fingers would remember their old strength better if they grasped your sword.”

When was the last time you remembered the battle you were fighting? What was it about, again? What was life about, again? What was your life about, again? If you’ve forgotten, then you’ve become truly lost. I’ve lost myself in foolish indulgences and pursuits for years at a time. And I’ll never get those years back. How many years are you willing to lose because you didn’t take the opportunity in front of you right now to seriously reckon with the question: Have you lost sight of what you should be fighting for? Don’t sacrifice your life by turning from wisdom. Remember the purpose that gave you endless drive, and do what needs to be done. That’s the best version of wisdom any of us are ever going to get.

This is what the Apostle Paul says so urgently: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14).

“How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?”

How long have I gotten away with my foolishness, under the delusion that I’ve really gotten away with something? Too long. Too long. I can be better. And so can you.

The positive feeling I received from changing in response to criticism far outweighed the pain of hearing the comment.
Critics incite violent thoughts in my head. But that’s my ego. And my ego doesn’t want me to change. But I actually want to change.
Seek to articulate truth, and you will attract criticism like a sale on ice cream cake attracts the fatties.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Arnold Schwarzenegger, with Douglas Kent Hall, Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005; orig., 1977), 90.

[2] Arnold Schwarzenegger, with Douglas Kent Hall, Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005; orig., 1977), 90.

 
 

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