A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed – without remedy. Proverbs 29, verse 1.
Stubbornness isn’t usually a good thing. In America we make much of independent spirit and Puritan pride; they can help you to really go places. If you’re going to succeed, you need grit and an independent streak because it’s a tough life. You need a backbone and the wherewithal to stand up on your own, against odds, and stick it out. You may need to go against popular opinion, or resistance from the people closest to you if you are to succeed in something to which you believe you’re led.
And you need to be true to your word, even when other influences or the sequence of events make that difficult. If you say you’re going to do something, then you need to do it. Independent people do this: they stake a claim or make a promise, then they follow through. If you say you are going to do something, you need to follow through no matter what. Proud people live their lives this way; I often think that’s the reason why they waste very few words.
But that spirit isn’t what this verse is talking about. Instead, this verse is talking about jackass stubbornness. We’ve each known stubborn people who just won’t give up, people who just don’t seem to listen to reason or persuasion. They are right and nobody will tell them different. I once installed a garage door opener with a friend who was bound and determined that they knew where the center point of the garage was without measuring. “You can see the center,” said my friend, and they started for the drill. No amount of my weak reasoning could persuade them to measure twice before cutting. Six weeks later, the new opener poked its lifting arm through a brand-new garage door: all because oof stubborn stupidity on both our parts.
I’ve been known to be stubborn myself. Too many times I’ve been stiff-necked and refused to listen to the advice or reasoning of people who actually did know better. You don’t get to be a middle-aged man with the shameful resume of affairs, lost friendships, having been fired from one job and rolled off other projects, and years of troubles without acknowledging that much of that was due to my own stubborn choices. There’s a favorite George Jones song which I’ve quoted here before: “I’ve had choices since the day that I was born. There were voices that told me right from wrong. If I had listened, I wouldn’t be here today living and dying with the choices I’ve made.”
Thank you, George, for a Scriptural reminder.
It can be a hard world, and there are consequences for our actions. If you’re stubborn, it WILL catch up with you. The people who tell you about all the bad things that could happen if you do X, Y or Z don’t usually do so because of any agenda: they usually do so because they care and because they know what they’re talking about. You can’t cover up a crime; you can’t hide indiscretions; you can’t run away from guilt. When your choices catch up with you, they usually have quick, disastrous connotations. All hell breaks loose when the truth breaks out. Ask anyone (including me) about what happens when your scandal goes public. In the middle of it, it will feel like you’re being destroyed and that you have no hope. Some of that will be the consequences themselves; some will be your guilt pecking at your conscience.
I believe you must read into this, though, as regards ‘without remedy.’ Human consequences happen. Spiritual consequences are atoned for by God alone, and those consequences spill over into our human lives. The verse doesn’t mention this, but I read into it that this ‘without remedy’ part is implied to mean our humanity. God doesn’t design disaster in our lives: that comes from our choices in sin. God does design redemption in everything; if you don’t believe me, ask yourself why every choice you make seems to lead to other choices and that you can always boil them down to right and wrong ones. That’s God at work in your life, providing a way out of every situation. When we constantly choose the wrong way, we compound our risk and compound the consequences. The world WILL make you pay for it when it all catches up with you.
But God won’t. That was the whole message of Christmas: Him being born here to live a life and die a death that renders your spiritual payment complete. We don’t need to worry about being separated from divine love here or hereafter because of what He did at Calvary. Understanding, contentment and peace can be ours here by letting go of the guilt, letting Him take care of it. Perfect peace later comes as its own consequence. Paul put it best in the fifth chapter of Romans: suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope that doesn’t disappoint us because, at just the right time, God poured out love on us through His Spirit in His Son. The world may make us ‘pay’ for our sins, but the separation from all love that could have resulted from them is made null by Christ. Without remedy becomes without conditions and without end, amen.
As part of a Bible study, several months ago I watched “the Mosquito Coast.” It was the story of how stubborn pride cost you everything. Harrison Ford played an inventor who casts his pride before the world and pays the ultimate sacrifice, first with his family, then with his life. He was destroyed because he remained stiff-necked after many rebukes and consequences told him he should change. The movie got me thinking about the ways in which I’m stiff-necked. Since the new year is only a few days away, that’s a good thing to keep in mind. This is another good opportunity to change my own ways and leave some bad habits or past sins behind. Stubbornness for its own sake never got me anywhere good, and I don’t want to end up without remedy here even as I know my spiritual remedy has already been set in place. Today is a good day to start. Care to join me?