Proverbs 14:12 “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death.”
I hope you’ll forgive one more animal story. I was in the kitchen getting ready for trash day—dumping the smaller trash cans from around the house into the trash bag, getting the expired food from the fridge, replacing the liner in the kitchen trash can, etc. The cat, Gatsby, was watching me work from the stairway.
As I tied up the bag to take outside, I heard that cat yowling. Not unusual, this cat is seldom without something to complain about, but the yowling was strangely muted. I looked and he was no longer on the stairs. The yowls grew more insistent and I could tell he was inside something. But what? I looked in the closets (which are few in this house). Nothing. I could only hear him down in the kitchen, not upstairs. Was there a hole in the floor where he could have gotten stuck?
I began to panic, as Gatsby was already doing. I checked behind the washing machine, under the furniture, and still he howled as if miles away. Where could he be?
I finally found him (drum roll please) in the refrigerator! At the speed of light he had managed to leave the stairs and jump inside as I turned from pulling some old lettuce out for the trash and let the refrigerator door close behind me. As he came bounding out (great, now even my food has cat hair!), I reminded him of that old saying about curiosity and cats.
Curiosity may well kill its share of cats, but we humans are in no way immune from the same sort of impulses. How many times have we ended up shut in the refrigerator because we wondered what it might be like to try [name your vice]? Whether it is an addiction to drugs, gossip, or shady business practices, we get shut in and it takes someone on the outside to find us, open the door, and let us out. As the writer of Proverbs reminds us, often the way seems right to us because we can only see what it provides in the moment and not where such a path leads.
When Jesus says in Matthew 16:25 “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for me will find it,” he reminds us how limited is our ability to see where a particular action will lead. It looks right, but we end up shut in the refrigerator. It looks like sure and certain death but brings eternal life instead. It’s no wonder that we get paralyzed by the need for a decision, when the Bible tells us that our judgment is so messed up!
But if you look more closely, there are clues to discerning the right path. In the Matthew passage, the clue comes in the words “for me.” At least in my own life, the stuff that gets me in trouble is the stuff that is done purely for myself. The actions that turn out okay are the things I have done out of faith. I might do things for myself out of faith—taking a Sabbath, for example. That works. Just goofing off out of laziness does not. Putting myself in danger just for the thrill of it lands me in the refrigerator. Sacrificing my safety in obedience to God’s call, however, bears fruit. Paul put it even more succinctly in Romans 14:23 when he says, “everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
The good news for Gatsby was that I was around to look for him and open the door. The good news for us is that even when we choose the way that seems right but isn’t, God is always there to find us and open the door.
Give us wisdom, God, to choose your way. And, when we fail and land in trouble, find us and open the door. Amen.
New social network! In my work as Executive Director of the Massachusetts Bible Society, I’ve created a new social network for those who relate to a broader view of biblical texts than fundamentalism represents. The design of the page will change when the new MBS website goes live, but it’s open now for profiles to be posted and the site can be fully used. If you want to join us, sign up and post a profile at http://massbible.ning.com. For those of you already on the network, I’ve started a new discussion on hell. Join in!
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