The High Cost of Dividing the Nation

“The Judgment of Solomon” by Nicolas Poussin

The morning after the Democratic National Convention, in my daily devotional, I arrived at 1 Kings 3:16-28. This passage tells the story of the newly-crowned King, Solomon. Solomon is approached by two women, both prostitutes. They live together in a shared house. Both have recently given birth, but only one baby remains alive. In the story the first woman tells the King, she gave birth a few days before the second woman, whose son then died the night after he was born. The second woman, in her grief and jealousy, swapped out the living son for the dead one, and when the first woman woke, there was another woman’s dead baby at her side, and her own (living) son was gone. The second woman tells another story. She insists that the first woman is lying and that, in fact, the living son is her own, and the dead son belongs to the first woman. And so they go, back and forth.

Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son that is dead’; while the other says, ‘Not so! Your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” So the king said, “Bring me a sword,” and they brought a sword before the king. The king said, “Divide the living boy in two; then give half to the one, and half to the other.”

And so comes the moment of decision, and the King’s subterfuge: an invitation that in place of the tragedy of one child, we will find the amplified tragedy of two dead children, the second cut apart by the King’s own hand and the wish of the mothers.

“But the woman whose son was alive said to the king—because compassion for her son burned within her—“Please, my lord, give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him!”

It is not a unanimous decision.

The other said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.”

And so, Solomon has found the mother, and he gives the child, accordingly, to the first woman—the truest mother, the one who would have her child taken away from her before she’d have him severed in the palace.

For the test of deepest love for someone (or something) is, often enough, the willingness to let it go, a little, for the sake of preserving its life, in both the present and future.

I can think of no more apt Scripture passage for these weeks, as I am inundated with the election media feed.

The parallels are uncanny.

First, there is a nearly endless stream of disillusioned voters and non-voters lamenting that both political parties and their candidates are “two prostitutes from a shared house” [1 King 3:16-17], “two whores of the same stripe,” and similar modern-day versions of what is very old slang.  (Let’s bracket for a moment, the reality of actual prostitution and its tremendous distance from the rhetorical reality of the “whore!” language we throw around so casually, both in a biblical context and contemporary cursing.)

In its own weird way, it’s the reality we have, looking towards November: Everyone lives in the same House of Ill Repute, all together, in our political morass.

The story of Solomon’s choice takes this “two whores from the same house” situation for granted. This is our starting place. There is not another choice, not someone we might imagine to be a “more fitting” mother figure. We are choosing between two people who share a similar lot in life, who have made some similar bad choices—or, perhaps, as we reflect on the reality of biblical times, and our own, women who have been forced into some similar bad circumstances through tragedies that take place off-screen, before our Bible passage begins. In any case, this is the reality before Solomon.

And, in its own weird way, it’s the reality we have, looking towards November: Everyone lives in the same House of Ill Repute, all together, in our political morass.

How can we possibly choose? Well, how did Solomon choose?

It’s the question of splitting the baby. Still a wise question to ask.

This election has a lot of moving parts. But one moving part is the persistent rhetoric of reclaiming America for its rightful and original owners, “for us,” which seems to mean, roughly-speaking, for white, straight, non-Hispanic, men.

Here is the thing: This is not our American dream. This is taking the baby that is the contemporary United States of America and hacking it to pieces in our grief so as to keep it from anyone else. Chopping off a Mexican-American limb, an LGBTQ limb, a Muslim limb, on and on, until we’re left with a corpse in lieu of a child. This is, perhaps, a choice that appeals to many of us who are mad with grief and loss. Americans who feel something for which they/we are nostalgic (rightly or wrongly so) is already dead in our arms. It’s the wail of “If my baby is dead, chop hers up, too!” It may be somehow understandable. But, ultimately, it’s taking the life that God has given because of our own pain and jealousy— clearly, obviously, the wrong choice.

Solomon asks the right question: If you would sever the baby in two so callously, you are not really the child’s mother. And if you would sever the country in two so callously, you are especially unfit to be our leader.

May Solomon’s wisdom speak to us, before we head to voting booths next month.

Emily Jones works as a faith-based anti-poverty organizer and adult educator in Rhode Island. She has served as lay associate pastor for discipleship at a multi-site church plant, program manager for an education non-profit, and labor organizer for healthcare workers (CT). All views expressed are her own and do not reflect organizational positions.


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