Thursday, December 13, 2012

Wise Serpents, Harmless Doves

There's a certain situation that always brings to mind the verse, "Be wise as serpents, harmless as doves" (Matt. 10:16). It's usually a situation where a person who is committed to be good is engaged with the powers of evil in the world. If I dare to quote a certain character from science fiction, "Spock, I've found that evil usually triumphs [over good] unless good is very, very careful."

I heard another proverb once from Keith Drury, "Don't wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty but the pig likes it." I think of the Parable of the Unjust Steward.  A Christian in the halls of money and power is in a surreal world, an Alice in Wonderland.

The pacifists among us would say not to engage the worldly powers on their own terms. They would say that the person who dabbles in the world to try to do good inevitably infects themselves and cannot retreat.  You start trying to bomb just the terrorists but you end up blowing away a whole country because they're all your enemy.  Sinestro tries to harness the yellow energy of fear to fight evil but ends up evil instead.

I've never been able to go the whole way with pacifism or absolutism on these sorts of things. The Nazis are at your door looking for the Jews hiding in your attic and you lie even though you would rather not.  So what of that rich and powerful member of the congregation to whom you have to give attention even though in God's eyes he or she is no more valuable than anyone else?

It's an age old story. Does Jimmy Stewart take the job at the bank or stick with the building and loan?  In the movies, the most virtuous decision often prevails.  In real life, it often doesn't. Is it "no compromise or die"?  "Better dead than red"?

It's a quote about the circus of life--be wise as a serpent because the world is a surreal, strange place that will just as soon chew you up and spit you out. Be careful with power. Be constantly on your guard. Guard yourself when you get a little of it.  Be harmless as doves. Constantly check your true motives.  If you find yourself with venom in your hands, be careful who it gets on.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

The color of fear for sinestro is yellow. Red is rage. Would love to see an expanded understanding of the parable of the shrewd manager.

Ken Schenck said...

That at least shows I wear my nerdness lightly. :-)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Isn't this exactly why Christianity is meaningless, personally? Those that try to "use" Christianity are being shrewd managers by planning people's lives for them? Is that "good character"?

Christianity has meaning in historical/political understanding, but it really has little impact upon one's character, because everyone has to "live in the world". And unbelievers can have "good character" or be good managers...Christianity is irrelevant, as individuals do differ.

Just what is "good character" anyway? Doesn't character have to do with how one uses their talents to the best of their ability? Should that not be motivated by personal choice and commitment? or is "Christian character" about giving up all ambition, submitting mindlessly to authority, serving tirelessly in the face of futility? Yes, historically, that is what some in power have wanted others to do. If the ones in power find a particular conviction, then they should feel the obligation to fulfill it, and not demand another to serve their interests...our "American understanding" is consent and mutuality.

John C. Gardner said...

I have found Plantinga's free will defense coherent in examining evil and how to respond to theodicy questions. Tom Wright(and others I am sure) state that we all must remember that evil is not what separates us from evil but that evil runs(at least to some degree) through our own hearts. Coercion, use of drones,may be necessary in life(and I also am not a pacifist) but we must be careful about our involvement in wars, use of lethal force at home, and about simplistic claims made by those like Mike Huckabee that the reason for the violence at the Connecticut school was due to lack of prayer(God) in the schools.

Anonymous said...

thanks for share.