Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: The Toils of Sin, Part 1

Today's proverbs give us a lot to think about, so we're going to cover them over a number of weeks rather than rush through.

The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
  and he is caught in the toils of his sin. Proverbs 5:22

This verse pops up after advice regarding "loose women." The loose women whose lips drip with honey are a metaphor for all those things that seduce us away from God.

But what, exactly, does it mean to be seduced away from God, to be ensnared by iniquity, caught in the toils of sin?

If you're anything like me, you'd just rather not think about this. Sin seems like such a big topic, huge and ugly and detailed. But in Chapter 6 of Proverbs, we get a list, a relatively simple list, of what sin is.

There are six things which the Lord hates,
  seven which are an abomination to him;
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
  and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
  feet that make haste to run to evil,
false witness who breathes out lies,
  and a man who sows discord among brothers. Proverbs 6:16-19

Let's break these verses down and look at each sin separately.

Pride, or haughty eyes, is listed first, the first and worst of the Seven Deadly Sins of the earliest Christian teaching. Throughout scripture, we are told to be humble before God, and we think of how humble Jesus was, washing His disciples' feet, going to the cross without uttering a word in His own defense. Even the pagans preached humility and the dangers of pride. Just think of Greek tragedy and mythology. A little Oedipus Rex or Achilles' heel, anyone? At the great, triumphant parades of the Roman emperors and generals, paid mockers shouted insults at the honoree to keep him from attracting the attention of gods for being too prideful. Pride goes before a fall...Proverbs 16:18.

The arrogant are always and every time brought low.

Is it wrong for me to be proud of my college and graduate degrees, proud of my children and husband, proud of my country? I don't think so, unless that pride makes me puffed up over others or leads me to ignore the feelings of others. If I look on others with haughty eyes, that is the abomination to God, that is the sin. Haughty eyes hurt relationships, hurt people, hurt nations.

So how do we know when our pride hurts others? Well, context matters. What could be more natural than a woman bragging about her grandchildren? Every grandmother I've ever met does this at some point. In fact, I hope that all grandmothers are proud of their grandchildren. Yet I know a grandmother who shared with a relative that her grandson had been diagnosed with a major disability. The relative said how sorry she was, then immediately proceeded to tell the hurting woman how smart and talented her own grandchild was. One woman shared that her grandson might never live independently and the other dished up a serving of pride.

How hurtful in that moment the second grandmother's pride was!

I came across a saying recently that a person who is not nice to his or her server in a restaurant is not a nice person. I've never understood how people can be rude to servers; they handle your food, after all, and can do what they like to it in the kitchen! When I've witnessed such rudeness to servers, I've seen the haughty eyes, the I'm-better-than-you look. It's always so very ugly.

There's a controversy brewing in our small community, one that shows Americans at their most politically polarized and ugly. It's tearing our community apart and making us ridiculous at best and criminally stupid at worst in the national media.

I don't do conflict well and have purposefully stayed out of the mudslinging, but the nastiness on Facebook and in the media has bothered me. A lot.

I have opinions on the subject being debated...oh, yes, I have strong opinions. I think certain points of view in the situation are stupid beyond belief, am amazed that educated Americans can honestly think the way they do on both sides of the issue. I'm in the middle, as usual, seeing shades of gray and opportunities for grace and compromise that the black-and-white folks don't or won't or can't.

I hate the way this makes me feel, though. Am I looking on these people with haughty eyes? Do I think I'm better than they are? Not better, perhaps, but certainly smarter.

And there's the rub. The other day, I realized I was looking at it the wrong way, the prideful, haughty way that says I'm-right-you're-wrong-so-screw-you. I wondered what would happen if I focused instead on what I love about my community and the people in it. What would happen if I stopped looking down with haughty eyes and started looking up with grateful eyes? I wrote a long list of all that I love about my community and about this largely ugly situation.

You know what happened? The knot in my stomach loosened. The anger in my heart disappeared. The frustration and arrogance disappeared. I sat at my computer screen and cried tears of gratitude. I'm not angry about the situation any more, and I am not looking down on anyone. I'm sad, yes, for the damage being done to our community, and I still hold my opinions on the subject as strongly as before. But I also see that right now, the middle of the conflict, isn't the end.

The only thing that changed was my attitude, from pride to love. And it has made all the difference.

I also see what I can and cannot do about the situation. I'll vote my conscience in November, and I'll write a letter to the officials involved in the chaos, a letter of peace and balance, of calm reason instead of the angry rhetoric that was boiling around in my brain.

The toils of arrogance were tearing me up, but the fruit of love is peace. 

Where in your own life are you ensnared by pride and toiling in its arrogance? How can you walk humbly and lovingly with God instead of staring out with haughty eyes?

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