Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Ecclesiastes 6, verse 9.
I struggle with this concept a lot. Is it a sin to look at a pretty lady and think she’s pretty? Or to see something you’d like to have, say a fancy car or a nice piece of jewelry for your wife? I like to go to Cabela’s to browse for a new boat, fishing tackle, maybe a new 12 gauge or camping equipment. Is that wrong? Where exactly is that fine line between healthy desire and genuine coveting? Man, I really hate that the right answer is “it depends.” I prefer black and white answers but this just isn’t one, mainly because this is another proverb, another good saying that means more than it says.
I know, I know: what’s a sin to one person isn’t a sin to someone else. We aren’t talking about areas of judgment: we’re talking about thresholds. We are talking about pain points. Sure, some sins are black and white; we kill, we cheat, we lie, we steal and so on. Add into those the heart that conceives them. Murder, adultery, lying, theft and all sins: they start in the heart. One person can look at the ladies all day long and not be tempted by them, but get him in a room full of slot machines and he’s hooked. One woman can go shopping until the cows come home, but her friend is addicted to covering her insecurities in credit cards. What trips your trigger might not trip mine and vice versa. It sometimes makes me admire Jimmy Carter, who confessed to lust in his heart yet never strayed from Ms. Rosalynn. Then again, he admitted this to Playboy.
But no matter what fires you, the writer of today’s verse says it is better to look than touch, to glance over rather than dive deep. Do I hear a big ‘duh’ in this? Absolutely, yet it’s a profound point and one that shouldn’t be brushed over.
Yesterday we talked about exposing ourselves, laying ourselves and our sins bare before God, going ‘the full monty.’ You can’t confess your adultery without digging deep to ask yourself why you did it. You can’t give up the booze without understanding what drives you to drink. You can’t stop stealing until you understand what gives you the itch. Whatever sins plague you , they will still plague you until you lay them bare and face them, accept them, and begin to overcome.
And once you’ve done that, it’s still a fact that you can’t do anything about it to save your soul. Confessing our wrongs to God and understanding what caused them is a first important step. Neither you nor I can do the rest on our own. Whatever you try will be meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Only Christ Himself, the direct answer of he who wrote the verse, can do that. It’s beyond your skill and mine and that’s just the way it is. When I was deep in the middle of my indiscretions I was despondent, at the end of my rope. A friend of mine reminded me of this simple truth, reminding me that only one man in all of history ever died for everyone else’s wrongs and that man wasn’t me. My friend’s kind encouragement helped me to face up and ‘fess up, to face the things I had done and own them. The rest involved laying them down at the Cross and walking away.
Since then, I’d be lying if I told you I was an angel, or that I never told a white lie to save my kids’ feelings, or that I never had too much to drink when I thought the night was too tough to face otherwise. I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t sometimes let wrong get the best of right, or my old guilt try to creep back in and take a foot-hold. When those times happen, it helps to remember that it’s better to look than to look and jump. For me, the fine line is at the flirt, and when that can happen it’s time to move along. Even more, if the moment is something that is tempting perhaps it’s best to not look at all. In those moments, it helps to cover them in prayer, to speak up and talk with God. I suppose I must look like an idiot sometimes, driving down the road, looking like I’m talking to someone when nobody else is in the car. If you see me do that, you might just see me praying. More and more, I find I need to do that because more and more I find it to be a great comfort.
It’s comforting because I’m human and I still struggle. You don’t have to swear like a sailor to be bothered by the words that come out of your mouth. You don’t have to cheat on your spouse to understand in your mind how that can happen. You don’t have to steal or skip payments or neglect your responsibilities to find yourself wanting more than what you’ve got. Hitler, Osama, you and me all have our sins. When you’re faced with yours like I’m faced with mine, it’s better, then, to know that all is forgiven by one better than us when we take those open wounds to the one who heals with eternal love.