When the wicked thrive, so does sin, but the righteous will see their downfall. Proverbs 29, verse 16.
Do you ever get through your day here and feel like you’ve been slimed? From the stories of drug pushers who make pregnant women work as prostitutes to all the constant ooze in politics to Jersey Shore every time you surf through MTV, do you ever feel like you’re covered in slime? I think this question must mean that I’m officially getting old because it sounds like something that, in years past, I would have thought only an old person would ask. It’s been going on for all time, since practically the beginning of things. We don’t know how long Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden. All we know is sin started with their exit. And it’s sin that marks our days.
That’s a sad admission whether you’re old or young. It’s a sad thing that just living day to day can leave you feeling slimed, but it’s been going on for almost as long as there have been people. The first sins were disobedience, lying and idolatry, but the next ones we hear about jump all the way to capital murder. I wonder if Adam and his family felt slimed. Years ago I toured Pompeii. In that tour you find that one of the best preserved buildings is a brothel, indicating that the ancient Romans took their sin very seriously (and this from just after the time of Christ). It was a creepy feeling, but, yep, there was that feeling of being slimed again.
Just last night, I walked through the city. Minneapolis is a fairly clean, polite and calm city, yet to get back to my hotel I had to walk past cabarets, sex shops and strip joints. Years ago, I used to frequent strip clubs, but I can tell you honestly that I haven’t been in one in years. A friend told me that his wife thought they dishonored her, so he didn’t go any more (and he was a macho athlete). That stuck with me and I’ve emulated his behavior. Seeing those places makes you realize why they look seedy, and I’ll admit to walking faster when I walked by. Still, I felt slimed (and cold; it was below zero).
Do I sound like a prude yet? Maybe I do, but so be it. I feel slimed by pop culture these days because it seems like the wicked are thriving more than ever before. Perhaps every generation feels this way, and perhaps I’m only realizing the depth of something that’s always been around; both are possible. It could also be that I’m learning to look at things through a different lens and I don’t really like what I see. I don’t like what I see because, unfortunately, I’ve seen myself in that mirror and I’m ashamed of that.
Consequently, to many who know me, I must sound like a prude and a hypocrite. I’m hoping that enough has changed of late in my life to make that impression solid because the changes are real. Not so long ago it wouldn’t take much to convince me to shack up; I’m thinking differently now. Not so long ago, it wouldn’t take much to get me to drink until I got my fill, but a look in the mirror tells me I want to keep doing better. Not so long ago, I would have done many things differently than I choose to do them now. Not so very long ago, I was one of the thriving wicked.
Know what? Here’s the kicker: I still am. I’m still thick with sin. The things I don’t want to do any more always tempt me, and the guilt I laid aside, laid at the cross, constantly taunts me to jump back in and get filthy. The little things trip me up, I still carry too much junk, I mess up and do wrong far too easily. I’m still a sinner; chief of sinners, in fact.
Know what else? The second half of the verse applies to me too, even more so because I’m a sinner and I’ve done enough of that that it can be out of control. I’ve been made righteous and without that I’d just be a six foot pile of nothing. Sometimes, when I’m thick in my sins, I imagine what God must feel in that moment, His shame and sadness at the things I’m doing and that helps me to steel up and say ‘no more.’ Sometimes, after I’ve done something wrong, I imagine that same thing, but almost always, hand in hand with that thought, is the thought of Christ here with me, wherever I am, holding out His hand and saying “let me help you.” Even in my worst moments, He is always waiting there, beckoning me to come back home to Him and try again, change, do better.
I don’t know if it’s wrong or not but I have no interest in seeing the downfall of sinners. I am one, and I’ve been one. Some of the more depraved things a man can do I have done. In the space of my few years I’ve become someone I did not want to know, and I’ve been bought back to become someone better. I didn’t do it on my own. I had help: God’s help and the help of people who loved me, a wife, family, children, friends, fellow believers, even some unbelievers who know me well enough to love me. Please understand that, whatever ‘there’ is, I’ve been there, and it isn’t always pretty.
Sound familiar? Would that story look familiar if you saw it in your mirror? Knowing that, I don’t take glee or happiness in seeing the downfall of sinners. It hurts to watch good people you know living lives of frustration or unhappiness. You can’t make someone do it, or believe, and George Strait was right: you can’t make a heart love somebody. These days, I don’t enjoy seeing sin thriving in the lives of good people. So many of those people I know have said “there’s got to be a better way.” My friends, you know there is. What are you prepared to do to get rid of that feeling of being slimed?