Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Proverbs 6:16-19) transports me to first one place and then another: Jerusalem, Russia, Texas, and Bombay, to name but a few, where seven things the Lord finds detestable take place and mark history. Body parts are complicit in the hateful action: haughty eyes, lying tongues, violent hands shedding innocent blood, scheming hearts, feet rushing to evil, with false witnesses and divisive folk rounding out the list. Who is behind all this? Who made sure Pilate washed his hands and sealed his fate? Who killed the Czar and his ministers in St. Petersburg? Who rode the tank and held the general’s rank when the Blitzkrieg rolled in and the bodies stank? Who killed the Kennedys? Who laid traps for the troubadours before they reached Bombay? If you’re at all into the old Stones, you’ll be shouting out your background woo woos about now, with a ready answer: Lucifer himself, the man of wealth and taste who confuses cops with criminals and sinners with saints. Don’t forget his name. The sage of Proverbs has little sympathy for the devil, though, as he outlines those things the Lord detests. Haughtiness and deceit and violence against the innocent top the list. The tempter is pleased to meet us with these and other temptations as we walk around trying to guess who or what is drawing us toward disaster. We are puzzled by the nature of this game, but alas, we need not be, because it is an age old game, familiar to Solomon and sages ever since. Six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable.
I am reminded of a jail Bible study several weeks ago, when the theme was on assurance of salvation, and one of the inmates asked if I believed you could lose your salvation. I gave him the standard Baptist answer I grew up with, once saved always saved, with accompanying proof texts, and he wondered, what if you committed an abominable sin, something God really hated, wouldn’t that send you to hell? To which I responded that I didn’t believe so. And then he said, what if you were a homosexual, surely I didn’t think you could get to heaven if you were a homosexual, to which I said I didn’t know why not, I knew plenty of saved people who happen to be homosexual, which was apparently the most outlandish thing this inmate had ever heard. He started raising his voice, displaying a growing rage, and started ranting about how God hates homosexuality and therefore would never allow homosexuals into heaven. This didn’t seem to be the time to engage in a productive dialogue around all the possible interpretations of the various relevant texts, so I was thinking and praying about how to lessen the intensity of the situation. Other prisoners were joining in, and in the middle of the theological melee one of the other inmates, the largest of the group who reminded me of John Coffey in The Green Mile, said quietly, Six things the Lord hates, seven are an abomination: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood. . . I don’t remember the other four, but I’m pretty sure homosexuality is not one of them. That did it. The group settled down, we got back on track, and the next week the enraged inmate stayed after to apologize for sowing discord in the group and for his haughty attitude the week before.
The men who come to the jail Bible study can no doubt relate to the Proverbs passage about actions and behaviors that are hateful, as they have done at least one if not many detestable things to deserve their detention. But in the midst of living out the consequences of damnable acts, they often are able to respond with the zeal of those living under the consequences of Jesus’ one act that made all the difference for every sinner: the triumph of mercy over judgment, when Christ took captivity captive so we all could live free. It is a highly condensed faith that these inmates experience, there in a place where Lucifer does his best to remind the men of their detestable nature. But thanks be to God for the good news of great joy that shall be to all people, those in lock-up as well as those of us who are able to breathe free air. So if you happen to meet the mysterious tempter, dispense with all courtesy and sympathy. Fear not any claims that this Lucifer, this false light, has the power to lay your soul to waste. Jesus took care of that. Woo Woo!
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.