Ignorant Words–Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

I’m fairly confident that nobody, upon reaching the time of their retirement, strokes their chin and thinks, “I wish I’d gone to more meetings!” Yesterday, I thought of this as I sat in a room packed with several hundred of my colleagues at a faculty meeting.

Without boring you completely on the details, let’s just say that our academic commander has been tasked with creating a better system for sharing decision making with the faculty. Various people have various ideas for how that might be achieved. Imagine that: academics with multiple opinions. The problem yesterday was that not everybody was particularly nice about how to share their ideas.

The commander took some criticism. His superiors, the president and board of trustees, received a good dose of blame. The leadership, current and past, for committee A was criticized as was the leadership of committee B. It was what my friend Nathan terms, a “big day in preschool.” I’m not sure what that means precisely, but it’s what I think of when I read today’s text.

Don’t pay attention to everything people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you, for in your heart you know that many times you yourself have cursed others.

Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

The Blame Barrage

I’m also reminded of God’s opening salvo against Job: “Who is this who obscures my counsel with ignorant words?” (Job 38:2). People have about ten pieces of criticism for every complaint-worthy act. When I start classes on Monday, I will undoubtedly meet students who will blame me along with their family, their friends, President Trump, their high school teachers, society as a whole, and a host of other factors for whatever failures they produce.

So what’s a person to do when the blame missiles are flying thick and heavy across the battlefield of life? I’m kind of surprised by the advice that is given in this text. The teacher does not advise us to listen carefully to all of the criticism, weighing it to determine its merits before thoughtfully acting on what is learned. No, he just says “don’t pay attention.”

My daughter works on a customer service phone line for a credit card company. Every day she hears people criticizing and blaming, her favorite being, “I hope you’re proud of yourself. You’re ruining Christmas!” So how does Olivia succeed and keep from being depressed by this steady stream of blame and criticism? She doesn’t pay attention to it. She does her best to wade through the nastiness in order to discover what she can or cannot do to make the customer happy.

Getting in Tune

We can keep from listening to those who obscure our counsel with ignorant words when we realize that we do the same thing. When we realize the ignorance of those words we can refuse to either let them get us down or allow them to provoke us to equally ignorant responses. And just maybe, in that realization, we can see our own ignorant words for what they are and make them fewer.

Future Imperfect–Ecclesiastes 7:19-20

I think I can finally talk about it. The pain is not so fresh and so acute that I can now confront it and share my feelings with you. You see, as I mentioned elsewhere, my church’s pastor recently quit. We could say something less abrupt: He resigned. He followed God’s call to another work. But in the end, he quit.

That isn’t the painful thing, the thing I’ve been avoiding. Instead, I can now confess that my recently departed pastor was not perfect. There, I said it. He had flaws. Yes, he had many terrific qualities, but he had some negative ones as well. My guess is that if I’d worked directly for him on the staff, I’d know even more of those flaws. That’s where my mind goes this morning as I continue through Ecclesiastes.

Wisdom makes the wise person stronger
than ten rulers of a city.
There is certainly no one righteous on the earth
who does good and never sins.

Ecclesiastes 7:19-20

As I read these two proverbs in chapter 7, I’m inclined at first to think that they were simply leftovers from the list that populated 7:1-13. I’m also inclined to take them as separate and largely unrelated nuggets of wisdom. But as I reflect on my former pastor, I recognize that they belong right where they are and they speak to each other.

Over the last several entries, we’ve looked at how a person can walk a path of moderation between wickedness and self-righteousness. Here, Koheleth seems to be giving us some practical advice for living in a world that is between those two extremes. Let’s imagine my new pastor, whoever he might be.

Let’s say the church searches high and low, eventually calling Casper Clodfelter to serve in our pulpit. When he first arrives at the church, everybody will be swooning over Casper. We’ll want to invite him to go swimming to watch him walk on water. It’ll be ridiculous.

But then we’ll recognize that Casper has some horrible trait that we didn’t screen out in the search process: he doesn’t recycle, he’s a pre-trib, amillennialist, he pronounces “Haggai” strangely, or he occasionally yells at his kids. In short, we’ll discover that Pastor Clodfelter is, like us, a human being, fitting neatly into that description in Ecclesiastes 7:20.

Then will the wailing and despair begin. We’ve hired a mere human. There is, of course, hope. Wisdom–and for the Christian that includes the leading by the Holy Spirit–cannot make this person perfect, at least not in the time span we have available, but it can make him better. It can make him, if he started out as a wise man and thus a decent piece of material, a stronger one, “stronger than ten rulers of a city.”

One of the annoying things about my former pastor and my future, currently unknown, pastor is that he’s a great deal like me. He’s not perfect. He can’t be perfect this side of death. And that’s me as well. Try as I might, I cannot avoid sin completely. Despite my best efforts, I cannot pursue my best efforts–weird, eh?

But the hope here lies in the possibility afforded by wisdom, the beginning of which is the fear of God. Neither my pastor nor I can hope to be perfect, but if I stay plugged in to the Spirit, if I take the pursuit of wisdom seriously, then I can hope to be a bit closer to that standard tomorrow than I am today. And happily, that’s what God calls us to do.

A Little Wicked–Ecclesiastes 7:18

It is good that you grasp the one and do not let the other slip from your hand. For the one who fears God will end up with both of them.

Ecclesiastes 7:18

I know that it has been a couple of weeks since I wrote about the preceding verses, probably the most challenging ones in the entire book for a contemporary Christian. I’m talking about the ones that tell you not to be too wicked (which we would expect) but also not too righteous. Really? And as we ponder those directions, if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself saying, “Not too wicked? So I can be a little bit wicked?”

A little over a week ago, I found myself walking through the crowded sidewalks around Times Square headed to a sixth-row seat at, of all musicals, Wicked. As we navigated the Friday-night press of people, we encountered some rather awkward street evangelists. They might have been aiming to be too righteous, but that’s not what puts them in my mind today.

I heard a voice in that crowd, although I never saw the speaker, who quite distinctly said, “The people of this world have chosen their god!” Looking around, I could see that this man was correct. The gods of Times Square include thinly veiled sexuality, alcohol, food, material possessions, overhyped celebrities, and endless entertainment. And here I was walking to a musical that had filled a nearly 2,000-seat hall for 16 years with people falling all over themselves to pay a hundred dollars and more per ticket.

Should I have turned my back on the Gershwin Theatre as soon as I heard those words? Should I have taken my ticket out and ripped it up, since giving it away would have been tempting someone else into the iniquity of the world? In short, was I wallowing in idolatry as I listened to singing about “Defying Gravity”?

Those thoughts crossed my mind quickly and just as quickly gave way. After all, we were on the sixth row, nearly close enough to be spit upon.

What the verse today suggests to me is that we do not have to utterly abandon the pleasures of this world in order to remain in God’s good graces. If I’m reading this correctly, then I can be a little bit wicked without utterly letting go of righteousness. I can enjoy a musical, provided I’m neither obsessed by it nor indulging in something truly ungodly. I can enjoy secular music, rich food, an indulgent vacation, and the other pleasures of this world without letting go of righteousness.

I know that even as I say this, I’m getting into slippery slope territory. As a bright and sin-inclined human, I can rationalize anything once I start deciding that a little wickedness is okay. But if I remain in touch with the Holy Spirit, the God that I have truly chosen, then I’m going to find myself pulled back when I move into dangerous territory.

And when that happens, as the closing song of Wicked says, “I’ll be changed for good.”

The Merit of Moderation

Ecclesiastes 7:16-17

Have you ever had to deal with that perfect food person? It’s the one who never violates a single dietary rule. This person worries if their calorie count for the day is too high and they worry if it is too low. They want to make sure that their macros are perfectly in balance and that they get enough of every trace element. That person wouldn’t think of eating gluten or refined sugar or non-organic produce. Simply being in the same room with high-fructose corn syrup causes this person to break out in a rash.

That’s who I think about when I read the passage for today. Yeah, this only applies to eating as I described it above, but it could apply to anything.

Don’t be excessively righteous, and don’t be overly wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Don’t be excessively wicked, and don’t be foolish. Why should you die before your time?

Ecclesiastes 7:16-17

Too Righteous?

I don’t really need to worry about being excessively righteous, but I suppose some people do. I don’t need to be invited to entertain a little bit wickedness, but again, I suppose that’s an issue for some.

So what in the world is this passage doing in here? We’ve established over the last few weeks that our author is not your typical Sunday-School teacher, but at this point he seems to have gone off the rails.

I struggle with these verses, but then I think of the food nazi described at the outset. There are others who live by a rigorous standard in other areas. The Pharisees who spread such cheer in the gospels are types out of this mold. They were so focused on obeying the laws and the interpretations of the laws and the interpretations of the interpretations that they couldn’t really understand the nuances. They didn’t recognize that healing somebody on the Sabbath was a way of honoring the Sabbath. Instead all they saw was the rule. That, I think, is excessive righteousness.

At the same time, we can learn to deal with our occasional mistakes. We’re going to be a little bit wicked. That’s just the nature of things, so we’re best off not paralyzing ourselves when our perfection is shattered.

Getting in Tune

If I’m going to take this passage and use it in a meaningful way, I believe that the first step is to determine which of these tendencies–excessive righteousness or excessive wickedness–is my greater temptation. I don’t think that Koheleth is inviting us to become lax, but he is telling us not to obsess on our behavior.

We are entirely capable of making an idol out of our “rightness” or of allowing our “wrongness” to cripple us. Instead, we should simply live as wisely and as righteously as we can manage.

Life is Not a Movie Cliché

Ecclesiastes 7:15

I’ve been on this earth, living this futile life, long enough to have seen some pretty revolting things. A couple of years ago, I watched two good men die long before they should have from the same disease: pancreatic cancer.

Mike was about 60. He’d done all the right things in life. After serving in the Navy, he got married and raised three children. He worked hard and well building and maintaining roads in Kansas. Mike doted on his grandkids, kept his house in good repair, and grew some of the most stunning flowers you’d ever hope to see. He volunteered with the preschool kids at church and spent countless hours cutting out things and otherwise preparing for his and other classes on Sunday mornings.

George was in his 40s. A police detective, he wasn’t a guy who would ever rise to become the chief, but he also wasn’t the sort who would embarrass himself and his profession in some dreadful video. George worked his duty, but he tried to make the world better even as he arrested people. He left behind a loving wife and two teen sons, who, along with their baseball teams, sorely miss his presence.

I think of these two, who died in the same year, when I read today’s verse:

In my futile life I have seen everything: someone righteous perishes in spite of his righteousness, and someone wicked lives long in spite of his evil.

Ecclesiastes 7:15


Although Hollywood has long made films that shock us with their ambivalent or even tragic endings, most of their fare and the TV stories that followed, has run against what the verse above suggests. What would Hollywood do? Think Walker, Texas Ranger. A bad guy does bad things. Ideally the bad guy does really bad things to really good people. Maybe he highjacks a bus load of nuns and little kids. He punches women and tells the kids that Santa isn’t real. This villain is a nasty fellow.

And in the end, Walker overcomes long odds to kick said bad guy in the face, preferably a number of times. There’s catharsis and a sense of cosmic justice. The little kids get ice cream, the nuns get whatever nuns want, and Walker’s crew winds up laughing around a table. God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.

That’s what Hollywood used to always do and what they mostly do today. Even when a beloved character dies at the close of a film today, it’s usually framed in a positive or understandable light. In 90 percent or more of Hollywood’s offerings, the world has to make sense.

But Ecclesiastes notes the reality that good men die young from cancer while dreadful people make billions of dollars at the expense of all manner of good and decent things. Life is, after all, futile.

Getting in Tune

So how does the follower of Jesus deal with these very un-Hollywood storylines? How do we reconcile ourselves to terrible people prospering while fine people suffer? I’d suggest three thoughts that can help us retain our confidence in a good and loving God even as things stink.

First, let’s never forget that Genesis 3 happened. We live in a fallen and sin-drenched world. From God’s holy perspective, Mike and George were filthy sinners. Anything good that happens to anyone should really be what surprises us and seems unfair, but of course we don’t want to look at ourselves that way.

Second, we mustn’t ignore the fact that we can’t see the entire playbook that God is using. We can’t know the causes, natural and supernatural, behind these events. We can’t know, and we shouldn’t pretend to know.

Third, we need to recall that our ultimate reward will not be meted out in this mortal life. I’m confident that even though people like Hitler and Stalin seemed to escape true justice, they will be dealt with in the proper manner.

None of that makes the loss of Mike or George any easier. But nobody said that this futile life would be easy.

Don’t Fight the Spectrum

Ecclesiastes 7:13-14

I mentioned yesterday that my mother’s 99th birthday had come and gone. On the day itself, we hosted a party for 46 people at our house. I think the fire marshal might have been circling the block and considering an intervention.

The oldest guest was, not shockingly, the birthday girl herself. The youngest was my four-month-old granddaughter. In between, however was a young man on whom I’d like to camp out for a while: “Lewis,” one of my nephews.

Lewis is somewhere on the autism spectrum. Now a teenager, he didn’t speak until just a few years ago. He’s generally good natured–as good natured as kids his age will normally be. If you ever wanted somebody to make sure all the doors in your house were closed, Lewis is your guy.

I’ve heard people wonder why this boy would have this condition, when his siblings show no autistic tendencies. Some wonder why God would make such a “mistake.” They won’t get an answer, but they’ll find the topic taken up in Ecclesiastes:

Consider the work of God,
for who can straighten out
what he has made crooked?
 In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity, consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that no one can discover anything that will come after him.

Ecclesiastes 7:13-14

Renovating God’s Blunders?

What did Koheleth have in mind when he spoke of the work of God that “he has made crooked”? I suppose that it could be referring to things like mountains and rivers. Although humans have shown great ingenuity in overcoming some of the challenges of topography, the great rivers still go where they want to go and the mountains show no sign of surrendering.

But I’m inclined to see in these crooked works the things like cancer and mental illness and deafness and, yes, autism. Despite the best efforts of various doctors, cancer still takes down many people. While medicines can help, the bipolar person remains distinct. Although the deaf might protest that they are different rather than deficient, they still cannot hear a bird sing or an orchestra play. People can diminish these bits of crookedness, but they cannot overcome them.

Are these works of God blunders? Is my cousin with cancer being afflicted by either God’s carelessness or His malice? Is Lewis a giant mess-up? What pretentiousness we have if we claim to understand matters better than God. Sometimes, like in the case of my cousin’s cancer, the problem may lie with people. In his case, Agent Orange from Vietnam might be the culprit. There might be a human actor behind Lewis’ situation as well. Or maybe these are just things that God has caused or allowed to happen for reasons we’ll never understand.

Getting in Tune

“If there’s a loving God, why is there so much evil in the world?” That question is an exceptionally tired refuge of skeptics. Think about it. If there is a God who could create and control the enormity of the universe, would you expect that all His ways would be comprehensible to you?

We cannot put straight what God has made or allowed to be made crooked. We cannot magically pluck Lewis off the spectrum, and that’s okay. Our calling is not to utterly fix this broken world. Our calling is to do what we can with what we have, to be joyful with the good and thoughtful about the bad.

That’s why, even though I have never had a meaningful conversation with him, I will always have a place in my heart and my home for Lewis. God made Lewis. That’s enough for me.

Reading of the Will

Ecclesiastes 7:11-12

I have a confession to make. I grew up in a fairly affluent family. We weren’t Bezos and Buffet rich, but we were doing quite well. My father owned a bank, back in the day when local banks still existed and served small towns and neighborhoods. With an incredible gift for reading people and knowing who would and would not repay a loan, he made that bank, and our family, prosper.

I have another confession to make. When I was a young adult, struggling to get my feet under me financially, I used to take solace in the idea that “One of these days, I’ll get that inheritance from my parents and everything will be set right.”

Today, nearly forty years later, I haven’t received that inheritance. As steward of my mother’s finances, I have a pretty clear idea of what it might be. When I look at my own finances and then at that probable inheritance, I’m not as excited as I used to be. I’m not saying that I won’t cash the check, but that dollar amount helps to prove the truth of today’s passage from Ecclesiastes:

Wisdom is as good as an inheritance
and an advantage to those who see the sun,
because wisdom is protection as silver is protection;
but the advantage of knowledge
is that wisdom preserves the life of its owner.

Ecclesiastes 7:11-12

Better than Cash

For once, Koheleth understated his point. Wisdom is not “as good as an inheritance.” It’s better. Because of the lessons I learned from my father, I’ve done well in the financial realm. Wisdom can help a person earn their own money–and other good things–but money cannot buy wisdom.

Penny and I watched a scruffy-looking man about our age sitting at an outside table at QuikTrip recently. He had a square of cardboard and a Sharpie on the table, and seemed to penning something like “Homeless Vet. Anything Helps. God Bless!”

Lest I seem callous, I have no idea of this man’s story or what set him to standing on street corners, asking for handouts. I’m going to go out on a limb, though, and theorize that he does not have a huge inheritance parked in a brokerage account.

Did this man receive a heritage of wisdom from his parents, his broader family, a church, or a community? Perhaps, but somehow it doesn’t seem to have stuck.

The person with a rich store of wisdom, even when times get tough, will tend to find a way to make the best of things. The one who simply has money showered on them will often run through it pretty quickly. Witness the lottery winners who wind up either broke or having otherwise ruined their lives.

Wisdom is a thing that, like money, can be squandered, but unlike money, it needn’t be lost. Let’s imagine that I have a pile of money and a horde of wisdom to boot. If I somehow lose the money, the wisdom should still be available to help me recover.

Getting in Tune

One of the reasons why wisdom is better than an inheritance is that with wisdom we can see that money is a useful but limited thing. There are, of course, many things that money can’t buy, and when we don’t have the wisdom to rightly view our wealth, we’ll tend to just want more and more.

Another reason wisdom is better than an inheritance is that I have very little control over the size or availability of an inheritance. The poorest member of the poorest family can still pursue wisdom.

Rather than chasing that pile of found money, we should spend our energy chasing a pile of wisdom. With it, we’ll find that we get everything we need and more.

The Incredible Shrinking House

Ecclesiastes 7:10

“That used to be a big house.” That’s one of the stranger things that I’ve heard my mother say as I drive around the area of northeast Independence, Missouri where she grew up.

Part of me wants to turn to her and ask, “Did the house shrink?” but I bite my tongue. There’s no point to questioning this or any of the various statements that she makes, each one suggesting that things are different and not for the better. I’d definitely be wasting my time to share this:

Don’t say, “Why were the former days better than these?” 
since it is not wise of you to ask this.

Ecclesiastes 7:10

The Good Old Days

Why does it seem natural for us to believe that we’re living in an time that falls short of some by-gone golden age. Since my mother just turned ninety-nine, I find it very easy to see this tendency in her. She constantly laments how much things cost. “I can remember when bread was a nickel a loaf.” She probably can’t, but when she bought bread for 20 cents in 1940, she also worked at Sears and Roebuck, a good job, for $15 a week. That means that she could have purchased 75 loaves of bread a week.

Today, someone in a similar job might be making $10 an hour or about $400 a week. If they buy the cheap bread at Walmart, they might be able to bring home around 250 loaves at minimum. But the good old days were better.

But lest I do nothing but pick on my mother, let me consider myself. When I fire up Spotify, I mostly listen to music from years gone by. “They just don’t write them like that anymore.” When I go to church, I think about the glory years when we packed the place and seemed to be able to do no wrong. Of course, that music only seems better because it’s familiar. Those glory years at the church were laced with their fair share of frustration as well.

Is today better or worse than yesterday? Yes. Having lived the last 20 years or so online, I hate the idea of going back to a time when we had to write checks and address envelopes to pay our bills, go to the library to investigate questions, and fumble with DVDs to watch movies.

On the other hand, we didn’t need to worry nearly as much about privacy and cyber security in those days. We could have much greater confidence in the quality of the information we discovered at the library, and the entire nation had a shared sense of culture rather than the fragmented audiences and shattered attention spans of today.

Getting in Tune

Again, is today better or worse than yesterday? It’s really a foolish question to ask. How do you measure the better or worse quality of a time period? Some of us get misty eyed looking backward at a nostalgic day that never existed. Some people look longingly at a progressive utopia that will never materialize as they imagine. And today is just today.

With its good and its bad, today is today. With its own yesterday and tomorrow, today is today. Today, like every today that came before, has its promises and pitfalls, and it looks forward to “that day,” the Day of the Lord, spoken of by most of the prophets.

We’re foolish to look at today and think it inferior to yesterday. Whether it is better or worse is irrelevant. Instead, we need to live today with an awareness of “that day,” which will surely come.

In that day
the mountains will drip with sweet wine,
and the hills will flow with milk.
All the streams of Judah will flow with water,
and a spring will issue from the Lord’s house,
watering the Valley of Acacias.

Joel 3:18

The Fool in the Car

Ecclesiastes 7:9

What is it about an automobile that makes ordinary, reasonable people into morons? I could be walking down the street, holding doors for people and smiling, but put me behind the wheel of my car and, even though I’m not in any real hurry to get anywhere, I find irritation all around me.

Just yesterday, I was in a parking lot. Having identified a beautiful parking spot–it was in the shade in the heat of the afternoon–I prepared myself to wheel into it. But then this person was backing out of a nearby spot. She moved so slowly, her wheels barely turned so she had to back far out into the lane to make an exit. It turned out, though, that she wasn’t exiting. She was moving over from one perfectly good spot into another perfectly good spot. Finally, as I sat there grumbling, she eased to a stop, allowing me to grab my space quickly.

I should have had this verse in my mouth:

Don’t let your spirit rush to be angry,
for anger abides in the heart of fools.

Ecclesiastes 7:9

A Time for Every Irritation

Back in Ecclesiastes 3, we read about the “time for every season under heaven.” You might remember “a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together. I’d like to propose another list, a list of annoyances under heaven.

Annoyed by the old, annoyed by the young.
Annoyed by the strangers and who I’m among.
Annoyed by the fast, annoyed by the slow.
Annoyed by the high, annoyed by the low.
Annoyed by the rich, annoyed by the poor.
Annoyed by myself, but you even more.

What kind of a hit could the Byrds have made with that?

But honestly, what sort of benefit do we ever get from being angry? I have a few things from my past that have truly angered me and that stayed with me, things far more significant than that slow driver in the parking lot. One grudge I cherished for probably ten years, realizing that the person who had wronged me had long ago forgotten my existence. That anger did me absolutely zero good ever, from day one until the day that I determined to put it aside.

It’s not just me that feels this way, and it didn’t require the invention of the automobile for it to become a problem. James took up the matter in the New Testament:

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.

James 1:19-20

Getting in Tune

Different people are inclined to anger in different ways. I’m not an explosive person. Perhaps you are. I do find a hundred little things to bother me. Perhaps you’re more patient with the small stuff. I’m not sure that this matters all that greatly.

Anger, in whatever form, is a non-productive emotion in almost every situation. Think about it. If Jesus could not be righteously angry when a bunch of buffoons arrested Him and started the path that led to Calvary, then what right do I have to anger? If Jesus could say, “Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing,” then how can I hold a grudge against someone? Anger isn’t what we have toward fools. It’s what makes us fools.

Today, I’m going to strive to avoid anger–in the car and beyond.

The Corner Cutter

Ecclesiastes 7:7-8

Simón Bolívar, also known as El Liberator, is the George Washington of not just one country but several, beginning in his native Venezuela. In fact, the official name of that country is the “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” Nearby, the nation of Bolivia is named for the leader. The currencies of both countries are derived from his name as well.

Go to Venezuela today. Or better yet, don’t go. It’s a dreadful place where the common people struggle to have food to eat or money to buy it with. Poverty has been rife in Venezuela for decades but today it is made worse by an economy that just keeps spiraling downward despite immense oil wealth.

I mention this because I would trace some of Venezuela’s problems to what I saw when I visited the place. Government officials at various levels were corrupt, looking for bribes on matters great and small. And if that happened with police and customs officers, we have to know that it happened among the powerful in and out of government as well.

Consider the next sayings of Koheleth:

Surely, the practice of extortion turns a wise person into a fool,
and a bribe corrupts the mind.
The end of a matter is better than its beginning;
a patient spirit is better than a proud spirit.

Ecclesiastes 7:7-8

Rush to Folly

When I first read these verses, I was annoyed. They seem utterly unrelated and thus would need to be treated separately. But reflecting on the matter briefly, I realized that there is a connection between them.

What sort of person becomes corrupt or practices extortion? Certainly a proud and impatient spirit will lead in that direction. Those officials in Venezuela did not start life less virtuous than me. As much as I might want to dismiss them as just the sort of people that South America produces, I know that this isn’t at all fair.

Or maybe it is fair. Maybe the sort of people that South America produces is the sort of people that North America produces. We start out life with the potential to be honest and humble, but then, to a greater or smaller degree, things go badly.

I could proudly look at myself, a college teacher, and crow that I’ve never asked for or accepted a bribe for good grades. I did have a guy offer me $100 for a better grade one time, but I quickly laughed that off, assuring him that he was joking. Here I am: pure as the driven snow.

But these proverbs don’t indicate that extortion and bribery are the only paths to folly and corruption. I would suggest that any time we manifest our impatient or proud spirit, we are apt to cut corners and engage in behavior that is every bit as dishonest as those Venezuelanos.

Getting in Tune

I don’t know much about Simón Bolívar, but I do know about Washington. What impresses me about the man is that he did not cut corners. Through difficult years, he stayed the course, while Benedict Arnold stuck his finger into the wind and acted corruptly for his own benefit. Honestly, many of the problems of our nation today can be traced back to people cutting corners for selfish reasons.

Jesus stayed the course even better than Washington. One of Satan’s temptations was essentially a corner-cutting exercise, a move that would bypass the cross and jump to the end of the matter from the beginning. But Jesus knew this to be the wrong thing to do.

When we rush to cut corners, when we behave corruptly, we debase ourselves and reflect badly on our God.