“Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
Psalm 37:1-4 NIV
We were speeding down the highway, on our way to a Christmas Eve party, for which we were considerably late. We were exceeding the speed limit, that is certain, but we were driving safely, and staying in our lane. Suddenly a car sped up behind us, and the driver, unwilling to wait for us to shift lanes and let him pass, and after dangerously tailgating us, quickly shifted lanes himself, and sped by.
Already somewhat annoyed at the driver’s unsafe maneuver, not to mention the prick to our pride, we became even more agitated as he continued down the highway, weaving in and out of traffic at high speed, sometimes traversing two lanes in one move.
The whole event became the topic of conversation, as we considered our options. Should we call 911? Look at him! Did you see what he just did? We should report this! And so it went for the next few minutes until we finally all calmed down a bit.
Around this time, Psalm 37 came to my mind. I brought up my Bible app, looked up the Psalm, and read the first four verses to the others in the car. I told them I thought these lines were appropriate to this incident because we were fretting about the wrong behavior of the driver. The others disagreed, and after some discussion that did not resolve the issue, we continued on to our party, and of course we did not call 911.
What is it about our nature that agitates us so much when we see someone getting away with something that they should not be doing? Is it simply our sense of justice? A concern for safety? Or is there more to it than that? Is there maybe just a little bit of envy there? Isn’t there just a little bit of, “Boy, if I did that, I would probably get a ticket”?
The majority of us live our lives “by the rules,” for the most part, and we get upset when people violate the rules with seeming impunity, and worse yet, profit by it in some way. But let’s face it, one of the reasons we live by the rules is that we are afraid we’ll get caught and punished. When someone acts as if they don’t care about punishment, this impacts our emotions in several ways. It scares us, but it also often inspires a bit of admiration, and yes, envy. Why is this?
One explanation, I think, is that someone who is not concerned about consequences appears to be able to act with perfect freedom. Let’s make something clear though, when it comes to the big sins or crimes, most of us would not in any way admire or envy this kind of freedom.
But what about the “small” stuff? What about those things where nobody gets “hurt,” especially the “little guy?” Or, maybe even the “big guy” does get shaved a little? “Slick” Willie Sutton comes to mind.
For those of you who may not have heard of him, Slick Willie was a bank robber operating mostly in the 1920’s and 30’s. He allegedly stole $2,000,000 during his “career” and ended up spending about half of his life in prison. The thing about Willie, though, is that he was a popular figure with the public and was well liked and respected by those who knew him, both in prison and out.
The reasons for his popularity are many. He was always a gentleman, even during his robberies, and no one was ever hurt. He always had a gun, but admitted shortly before his death, that it was never loaded because “somebody might get hurt.” He was highly intelligent, engineering three prison escapes, including one from Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, considered to be “escape proof.” And of course, he was robbing mainly banks. Particularly during the Great Depression, banks were very unpopular, because they were taking people’s homes in foreclosure.
So, in the case of Willie Sutton at least, who was admired by many, there was probably considerable envy by those who wanted to be like him but were not willing to take the risks.
The driver of the car, on the other hand, while he may have inspired some small amount of envy, did inspire quite a bit of fretting. But whether it is fretting or envy, the problem is it takes our minds off of what is important, which is “Trust in the Lord and do good.“ When we are focused on the unrighteous actions of others, we are not trusting G-d, and we are not doing good. As such, it is worse than a complete waste of precious time, it is a misuse of our time and takes us backward in our spiritual journey. Why?
Two reasons are given: 1) The efforts of all “those who do wrong” will ultimately come to nothing. As the passage says, “for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.” So, what is the point of our concern? But more importantly, 2) when you trust in the Lord, and “Take delight” in Him, “he will give you the desires of your heart.” So, what this means is that we are missing out on the good things that G-d has in store for us when we are not delighting in Him.
Well, as you can see from the way this post started, I am as guilty as anyone of focusing on the wrongs committed by others and not taking delight in the Lord and the good things He has done. But, at this point, I at least can realize it is a problem. This is progress. As I have said, this is a journey, and the destination seems a long way off. But, progress is progress. I’ll take it.