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Proverbs 4:1-27

January 26, 2015

I grew up in a neighborhood full of children.  We spent our summer days in endless outside games.  One of our favorite games was shooting each other with water pistols.  We would divide up into two teams–the good guys and the bad guys–and then chase each other with our water pistols.  I noticed an interesting phenomenon when we played:  the younger children always wanted to be the good guys, and the older children preferred to be the bad guys.  When we were young, we only wanted to identify with the good; but as we got older, we dared to identify with “the dark side.”  There was something more intriguing about being bad than being good.

I suppose part of this was due to our growing independence and testing our strength against the authority figures of established codes of conduct.  It was the necessary and positive process of learning for ourselves how to discern good from bad, and make moral choices.  But it was also a genuine attraction to being bad.

It seems to me our culture has at least two very different kinds of “bad guys.”  One type of bad guy is disloyal, cruel, cowardly, and sniveling.  Nobody is attracted to being that.  No one aspires to that kind of badness.  But the other type of bad guy is loyal to his friends, courageous, outwits the establishment, successfully achieves wealth or power through selfish means, and accepts no insults to his honor–taking revenge if harmed.  Our culture likes this kind of bad guy–even as it seeks to imprison it.  The stereotype is that women swoon over this kind of man.  He is strong and self-sufficient, a little mysterious and dangerous.  (Just as men swoon over the femme fatale.)

This may be why the Book of Proverbs repeatedly underscores the same moral point:  “Do not enter the path of the wicked.”  It has to remind the reader that “the way of the wicked is like deep darkness” because being bad is so attractive (and easy), and its eventually self-destructive result is not readily seen.  Being a pirate sounds fun–until you do it and you see the consequences on yourself and those around you and on society.  But it’s also addictive, and a part of us does not want to admit that being good–honest, transparent, self-giving, compassionate, cooperative–is better.  There’s no thrill in:  “Put away from you crooked speech.”

Can the morally good life be a thrilling life?  Yes, risk everything to do what is right, to seek justice, to aid those in distress.  Experience the thrill of creating what is beautiful and of lasting value, or of adding fruit to the tree of knowledge.

But are you still longing to be an outlaw or a pirate or a jewel thief or spy?  Watch a movie and enjoy the fantasy.  But don’t confuse the fantasy with reality.

Proverbs 4 begins with the touching image of a father teaching his son wisdom.  How many fathers today sit down with their sons and daughters to teach them the most important truths of life?  Do we leave this to school teachers?  I hope not.  For a child to learn wisdom it must be taught in the home.  It must be given special time and attention–not just on the fly.  It should be a time of reflection on the day’s events at the supper table, or a conversation following a bedtime story.  It should be regular and natural, an outflow of a parent’s love.  If a child objects that we’re being preachy–stop.  Resisted words are wasted words.  In fact, they are worse than wasted; they are the stones of a mounting wall of division.  Wisdom can only be received in a relationship of love and acceptance.

Pursue wisdom.  That’s not the message we usually give our children.  We usually tell them:  pursue good grades and a high-paying job.  Let’s get our priorities right.  Without a life lived wisely, good grades and good pay don’t mean much.

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From → Proverbs

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