Abundance & Cynicism

On Wednesday I’m speaking on the topic of ‘A Biblical Theology of Pleasure’ and to prepare I’ve been thinking about Solomon who seems to be a key figure on the topic. One question is how to view the account of Solomon’s kingdom from 1 Kings 1-10, in the light of Solomon’s downfall in chapter 11. Does the fact that Solomon fails in chapter 11 mean we should read the author’s almost exclusively positive presentation of Solomon’s reign in 1-10 with a more cynical eye? 

So argues Walter Brueggeman in his article “‘Vine and Fig Tree’: A Case Study
in Imagination and Criticism,” in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly. Brueggeman takes 1 Kings 4:20-28 as ‘criticism
couched in subtle and high irony,’ and asks regarding 1 Kings 4:20 ‘When
some live so extravagantly, others must have paid…Affluence and security are
linked to oppression and domination. Some share the dream fulfilled. Others pay
for it.’ However, Brueggeman’s thesis only works so far as we assume an economic
system based on scarcity, where an
equitable division of resources would leave each at a modest level of
consumption. The testimony of Genesis 2 is that such a system is not
intrinsic to creation; abundance is possible
under God’s blessing. The economic problem of infinite want and finite resources is only certain in a world under the curse of Genesis 3. Indeed, given the reduction in world poverty levels over
the last 25 years, (see here) we
might wonder if there are still traces of Eden in the global economic system. God has made a creation able to provide blessing and luxury for all his creatures; Solomon’s subject tasted that blessing for a time, the Christian hope is that one day we will do so fully and permanently. 

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