It is good that you grasp the one and do not let the other slip from your hand. For the one who fears God will end up with both of them.Ecclesiastes 7:18
I know that it has been a couple of weeks since I wrote about the preceding verses, probably the most challenging ones in the entire book for a contemporary Christian. I’m talking about the ones that tell you not to be too wicked (which we would expect) but also not too righteous. Really? And as we ponder those directions, if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself saying, “Not too wicked? So I can be a little bit wicked?”
A little over a week ago, I found myself walking through the crowded sidewalks around Times Square headed to a sixth-row seat at, of all musicals, Wicked. As we navigated the Friday-night press of people, we encountered some rather awkward street evangelists. They might have been aiming to be too righteous, but that’s not what puts them in my mind today.
I heard a voice in that crowd, although I never saw the speaker, who quite distinctly said, “The people of this world have chosen their god!” Looking around, I could see that this man was correct. The gods of Times Square include thinly veiled sexuality, alcohol, food, material possessions, overhyped celebrities, and endless entertainment. And here I was walking to a musical that had filled a nearly 2,000-seat hall for 16 years with people falling all over themselves to pay a hundred dollars and more per ticket.
Should I have turned my back on the Gershwin Theatre as soon as I heard those words? Should I have taken my ticket out and ripped it up, since giving it away would have been tempting someone else into the iniquity of the world? In short, was I wallowing in idolatry as I listened to singing about “Defying Gravity”?
Those thoughts crossed my mind quickly and just as quickly gave way. After all, we were on the sixth row, nearly close enough to be spit upon.
What the verse today suggests to me is that we do not have to utterly abandon the pleasures of this world in order to remain in God’s good graces. If I’m reading this correctly, then I can be a little bit wicked without utterly letting go of righteousness. I can enjoy a musical, provided I’m neither obsessed by it nor indulging in something truly ungodly. I can enjoy secular music, rich food, an indulgent vacation, and the other pleasures of this world without letting go of righteousness.
I know that even as I say this, I’m getting into slippery slope territory. As a bright and sin-inclined human, I can rationalize anything once I start deciding that a little wickedness is okay. But if I remain in touch with the Holy Spirit, the God that I have truly chosen, then I’m going to find myself pulled back when I move into dangerous territory.
And when that happens, as the closing song of Wicked says, “I’ll be changed for good.”