Saturday, October 27, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (30)

Disappointment, despite, laziness ... if you take the verses I’ve chosen from Proverbs 15 as representative of the whole, you might get the idea that Solomon’s a bit of a wet blanket.

Thankfully, for nearly every sluggard he describes, there is an upright man. For every broken spirit there is a “tree of life” and a “healing tongue”. For every grieved mother there is a rejoicing father.

It all depends how you want to look at his instruction, and what you decide to take away from it.

Assorted Proverbs (Proverbs 15:1-33)

The Broken Spirit
“A healing tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.”
How many times have your role models let you down? I’m not talking about football players, actors or musicians, of course — sane people expect celebrities to be less than the sum of their inflated accomplishments and polished, phony images. When they flame out in public we don’t gasp in surprise so much as nod knowingly at the inevitable.

No, I’m talking about teachers, grandparents, fathers, mothers, elders, uncles and aunts, or anyone else you’ve looked up to and later found to be morally deficient in some previously-undetected way. People about whom you once might have said, “I want to be like _____________.” People to whom you would not hesitate go for advice. People whose advice you’d recommend to others. People who characteristically fix things instead of breaking them.

It happens. I can think of at least three in the last ten years just off the top of my head, and a few more who were not role models for me, but certainly were for Christian women.

Thankfully, major, humiliating, testimony-demolishing moral defeats are fairly rare among mature Christians. More common are the small disappointments that result from unexpectedly discovering our role models are as human as we are. That they can be petty and small-minded at times. That they can take a position on something important to us that is genuinely boneheaded, and then won’t budge. That they possess an acquisitiveness or propensity for vindictiveness we had no idea existed. That in certain unexpected situations they are fearful when they modeled courage, tentative when they had always displayed faith, or tight-fisted when they preached generosity. Small stuff compared to others around you, but devastating because you believed them incapable of it.

These are the disappointments that are hardest to get over, precisely because you never imagined you would have to.

Need I add “Don’t be that person”?

Children and Parents
“A wise son makes a glad father,
but a foolish man despises his mother.”
Here’s one where reminding ourselves that proverbs are often parallelisms winds up helping us correctly interpret it. Read the second line on its own, and you might be inclined to rewrite it to mean something like “It is foolish to despise your mom.” That is certainly true, but we cannot forget to consider the first line, which seems to indicate that how the son’s conduct affects the parent is what’s in view, rather than what the son’s conduct tells us about him.

Thus we might reasonably read the second line as something like, “By living foolishly, a man shows his disregard for his mother.” By messing up his own life and not caring what becomes of him, he demonstrates that he does not have the slightest concern for the feelings of the person who troubled herself to bring him into the world. He diminishes her sacrifices, trivializes her affection and disregards her convictions and experience. In short, he insults her to the core by making nothing of her greatest efforts in this world.

I think that’s the sense of it.

The Hedge of Thorns
“The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns,
but the path of the upright is a level highway.”
Jesus said, “To the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Here the idea is probably similar: the person who begins a task diligently and operates in a straightforward manner makes every subsequent step he takes easier, in much the way that compound interest increases your savings.

The reverse is also true: compound interest will eventually kill you if you allow debt to accumulate. So too, taking days off, working too slowly, allowing yourself to be bogged down, delayed and unnecessarily distracted means that when you hit real difficulties that are not within your control, you’ll never get anywhere at all. If you’ve ever tried to make your way through a hedge of any kind, let alone a hedge of thorns, you’ll know it’s a very apt metaphor.

Now of course it’s possible to run into problems even on a level highway. A wheel could come off your cart, or a pack of bandits could show up unexpectedly. Nobody can defend against such things. But if you’ve already made three successful trips down the same highway and reached your destination intact before the bandits arrive, losing one load won’t put you out of business.

If, on the other hand, it’s four p.m. and you’ve only just staggered out of bed ...

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