Coping with scorpions

Photo by Michael and Christa RichertThis past week, as my wife and I visited with friends, we swapped tales of close encounters with some of God’s more frightening creatures (that is, other than humans).  There were, of course, the obligatory bear-in-the-campground stories, and our friends told us of the outsized rattlesnake that once blocked their way back down a hiking trail.

But one of the stories they told left an indelible imprint on my mind.  A developer, knowingly or not, built a tract of houses in an area already populated by scorpions (how can you not know this after you’ve sent in the bulldozers???).  Not surprisingly, the tenacious little critters found their way into the new homes.  The unfortunate residents had to live with constant vigilance lest they surprise one unawares.

Scorpions can climb sufficiently rough vertical surfaces like some walls, but have trouble with smoother surfaces like furniture legs.  The homeowners, therefore, developed coping strategies that turned into household rules.  Furniture was not to be allowed to touch the walls; clothes and blankets were not to be left touching the floor.

The moral of the story, of course, should be: Don’t build houses on top of scorpion colonies.  Duh.  But I can’t help thinking that there’s a metaphor in all of this for how we deal with sin.

In Luke 10, Jesus sends dozens of disciples ahead of him to preach the arrival of the kingdom.  They returned, joyfully reporting that even the demons submitted to them in his name.  Jesus told them that he had indeed given them power and authority over Satan’s minions, whom he likened to snakes and scorpions (vss. 17-19).  Then he warned them: “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (vs. 20, NIV).  Jesus was discouraging them from letting their heads swell over this newfound spiritual authority.

But spiritual arrogance can take many forms, some of which may seem innocuous at first.  I’m reminded of what Dallas Willard has called “gospels of sin management,” ways of reducing the good news down to a message of free forgiveness without the corresponding commitment to a life of holiness.  He rightly criticizes how the bumper-sticker theology of “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” plays out in actual practice: a pious admission of our imperfection that fails to translate into deep repentance for sin.

It boggles my mind to imagine people who, having discovered that their house is in the wrong place, decide to cope with scorpions through ad hoc adjustments rather than move.

But do we do something similar in our “management” of sin?