If God were to write you a “blank check,” what would you ask for?
“Ask what I shall give you,” he says to a young Solomon as he succeeds his father David as king of Israel. Solomon’s response is to make note of his youth, his inexperience, his cluelessness (“I do not know how to go out or come in”) and the people to whom he had been entrusted. He then asks for “an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this, your great people?” God is pleased with Solomon’s prayer; instead of asking for length of days, or riches or victory over his enemies, he prayed to be given a discerning heart to govern wisely.
I love this passage for a particular reason. Solomon asks for what will enable him to best carry out the vocation he has been given. He identifies himself as belonging to a community to which he is bound by ties of affection and obligation. Identity here should be understood in the most emphatic sense of the word. This is who he is, not an autonomous individual for whom a blank check conjures up all the possibilities of an unattached freedom; he is in his very being a man who owes his life to others and for whom he assumes responsibility.
Compared to this, our modern sense of the unattached self is thin gruel. We may choose to commit ourselves to one thing or another or one person or another, but the weight of that commitment rests only upon my choosing it, not on a given, pre-existing network of relationships to which I am bound. The freedom to move in and out of relationships speaks to the priority given to a “freedom from” over a “freedom for” in our self-understanding. The meaning of our lives is not something gained by discovering something that is already there, but by imposing our own “values” on the world.
Solomon’s prayer arises out of an older, taken for granted understanding that life has meaning only to the extent that it is given over to others. Attachment is a given. The blank check is circumscribed by the responsibility to be my brother’s keeper.