Daily Proverbial, from Ecclesiastes, 30 August 2012

Extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart. Ecclesiastes 7, verse 7.

“Extortion” is a pretty heavy word. It’s a crime and a serious one. Not surprisingly, I strongly reject the term “hate crime” because every crime is an act of hate. No, I’m not debating that some crimes are exacerbated by real hate. Racism, prejudice, intolerance: they make terrible things worse, and I have no problem giving tougher sentences to criminals whose motivation was factors like these. But let’s not be fools. All crimes are crimes of hate. We hate God, we hate each other, we hate that others have something we don’t have. WE are the ones, then, who might just deserve those tougher sentences. All crime is hate crime.

Even extortion. Dictionary.com defines extortion as, “the crime of obtaining money or some other thing of value by the abuse of one’s office or authority” and “oppressive or illegal exaction, as of excessive price or interest.” Have you ever done that? Have you ever obtained something of value by using your position? I’m betting most of us aren’t true in-the-legal-system criminals, so I’ll ask you again: when was the last time you did something to ‘persuade’ someone to do something for you based on who or what you are?

Oh come on: parents do it all the time. So do spouses, especially ones who try to run our lives for us. Ask the wife who’s been manipulated by an overbearing husband who determines what she will do, drink, work, say, act or speak. It’s all for her own good, you know…sure…wanna buy that bridge in New York, mister? It happens at work, too. Project managers are notorious for bossing people around. And let’s not even get into talking what kind of low-life extortion union bosses are capable of.

Fools. Just a bunch of fools. Are you getting the vibe that they’re everywhere? I hope you’re not too offended (but maybe a little) when I remind you that YOU are one of them. So am I. We’re fools, my friend, when we use our position to persuade/coerce/strongly convince/force others to do our will. We extort things out of other people. We extort behavior and we extort status. And then we try to do it with God. Give me this or else. God, you do this for me or I’m gonna whatever. We use our position as loved children of God to tell Him what He should do. How’s that working out for you? Do you feel like as much of a fool as I do when you do it and it either blows up in your face or, even stronger, when He ignores what you say and do and does something spectacular and wonderful for you anyway? Join the club and put on your fool’s beanie.

What’s more, we bribe. Again, this is one that EVERY parent knows well. Don’t believe me? Go sit at a table with a bunch of kindergartners and convince them to eat their vegetables. Try to motivate an intransigent IT engineer to perform a backup, or re-schedule an automated job, or review some requirements and I’m betting you’ll find yourself in bargaining mode. Go to a church council meeting and listen to the wheeling and dealing. Have a talk with your spouse, or your in-laws, or sometimes even your best friend. In small ways and large we bribe each other. And, again, worst of all, we use that same line of attack with the Almighty. We approach the throne of God like a sleazy politician approaching a group of bankers. “Do this for me and I’ll do this for you.”

How does that feel? How does it feel to ratchet down on dealing with the God of ultimate love, justice and peace by treating him like a common criminal? How’s THAT kind of hope and change working out for you? Yeah, me too. Like when we extort him, when we try to bribe God, how’s that helping? How do we feel – what do we feel – when His grace still comes flowing down no matter how low we sink?

I’m not here to guilt you with this verse: I’m simply telling you about the way it is. We can make ourselves inured to even the lowest feelings, convincing ourselves that it simply has to be this way for us to get by. We can de-sensitize our hearts and rationalize our bad behavior as being what it takes just to muddle through.

You know as well as I do that those things are lies. Don’t trust feelings. They’re a cheap imitation of the truth, not the pure, cleansing, sometimes convicting reality of the truth. Trust God. Me and you, we be mates, just like Crocodile Dundee said. And because we be mates, this mate will tell his mate that we’re thick with petty crimes like bribery and extortion in how we deal with each other but especially how we deal with our Maker. It’s the deception of the ages going as far back as the serpent by the tree.

You know, too, that there’s a better way. And I’m not here to guilt you into believing that, or guilt you into subjugating you to something that the deception tells you that you don’t want to do. There IS a better way and you know it’s true, even when it doesn’t seem like an easier way; that, too, is part of the deception. I dare you to take Him at His word though and test those words to see whether His burden is light and His yoke is easy. You and I can look at the straight and narrow and think it’s too hard, too straight and too narrow for damn dirty sinners like us. You do this for me and I’ll do that for you and together we’ll go around that straight and narrow path. Don’t believe it, my friend. We be mates and we be mates with God too, just like ole Mick Dundee.

I’m sick (and tired, thank you Mr. Cosby) of being a fool, of letting my corrupted heart beat irregular and telling myself that this is the best that can be. The burden and yoke of my sins that I have carried has weighted me down and it doesn’t get any lighter the more I try to use my position to coerce others to do X, Y or Z. I’m tired of a petty life of crime. There’s a better way and I’m ready for it. Are you?

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