But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.
You’d think that the wiser you are, the easier it would be to make decisions, as though wisdom were a pair of night vision goggles with telescopic lenses and a voice like Ironman’s Jarvis telling you bits of data that might save your life.
But Proverbs paints a lower-tech picture. A wise person treads a dimly lit path, carefully navigating difficult terrain and stubbornly refusing to divert their gaze from what they know is right and true.
If Christians have asked God, “How do we live wisely? How do we live righteously?” we ought to expect our answer to come in the form of dawning light. At first, we’re able to see just a little clearer. So we take small, careful steps in the right direction. And we’re rewarded with a little more clarity, a little more progress.
Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them…Therefore it says, Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:8–11, 14–16)
What does this mean in real life? It may be pleasant to leave our reflections in the form of painted allegorical images, but if Proverbs and Ephesians don’t spell out challenging specifics for us, it’s because they’re speaking to centuries of believers with countless paths and changing environments to navigate.
Some of us would like to leave the reflecting to others. “Let someone else be the guru and stake out the path to righteousness. I’m not that sort of person.” But Proverbs lays the responsibility at your feet for the way you live.
Others (myself included) tend more toward a posture of sitting in contemplation at the side of the road, paralyzed by the quandary of which way to go. But the light is dawning on our path, and while we must walk carefully, we must get up and walk!
One of the areas in which the Church most needs wisdom right now is in responding to the unrest surrounding racial issues, both in the United States and around the world.
Stop there and examine your posture. Have you grown defensive, asking, “Is she going to be on the same side as me? Or will this turn out to be a voice I’m obligated to distrust?” If your instinct in these times is to argue and not to learn, then you may be stuck on your path, rather than treading forward.
Finding wisdom to respond to the political and cultural environment is fraught with distraction and dishonesty. We’re distracted when people add violence and false accusations to what would otherwise be very helpful insight. We’re faced with dishonesty when people’s defensiveness causes them to obscure the truth.
We’re also dissuaded from making change by one very important component. And I’m just going to speak plainly here.
For many believers, church has been a home and an identity. Respected church leaders have spoken into our lives every week, have eaten dinner at our table, have baptized our children. They have become part of the cloth of our lives. Trying to extract certain aspects of their influence rips away at what feels normal, right, and good.
For some of us, it has been comfortable to follow in the footsteps of those we respect, without doing a lot of “pondering the path” of our feet. And when we’re challenged to do so, we meet with many obstacles:
- The possibility of rejection from this community or even the leaders themselves.
- The stress of embarking on a new path (even just a new path of thinking or speaking about people.)
- The risk of tearing that fabric that has warmed us and given us a place to belong.
The white Christian church has a lot of pondering to do. If we refuse to think on these things deeply and examine our influences, practices, and expectations, we are sure to wander off the path. What if the grievances being expressed by black Americans are actually light being shed on our path? What if, even when they’re shared imperfectly, they can help us to see more clearly?
What if, in spite of all the good and beauty in our church upbringing, there was injustice there, and God is indicating a way forward into greater righteousness?