A Time to Retch

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As a dog returns to its vomit,
so a fool repeats his folly.

Proverbs 26:11 NIV

Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.”
2 Peter 2:22 NIV

In his review of the movie “Hannibal” Roger Ebert wrote, “we must give it credit for the courage of its depravity.” Further along in the review Ebert noted that “many still alive will recall when a movie like this could not be contemplated, let alone filmed and released. So great is our sophistication that we giggle when earlier generations would have retched.” Ah, so that’s it – depravity indicates courage and giggling at wretched violence and gore shows sophistication. We have indeed come a long way, down the wrong road. Too bad so many have forgotten when to retch, retching has its place.

The callousness Ebert attributes to film makers and audiences of the twenty-first century (including himself) is not a new thing in human experience. About eighty five generations ago the prophet Jeremiah chided his own people saying, “Yet you have the brazen look of a prostitute; you refuse to blush with shame.” (Jeremiah 3:3b NIV) His message was a warning of impending disaster brought about by the callousness of his culture. Human dignity had lost its meaning, the word of God was despised, and selfishness seemingly reigned supreme. People need to know when to be ashamed, and willing to blush. Sometimes it’s far more appropriate, much healthier, to retch than to giggle. The prophet Jeremiah’s language was much different than film reviewer Ebert’s, but what Ebert facetiously refers to as “the courage of its depravity” Jeremiah describes as “the brazen look of a prostitute.” What Ebert ironically calls “sophistication” Jeremiah describes as refusing “to blush with shame.”

The nature of callousness is that it thickens with time and experience. While Jeremiah initially said that his people “refuse to blush” he later critiqued them saying, “‘Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them,’ says the LORD.” (Jer 6:15 & 8:12 NIV) His people had gone from brazenly refusing to blush to having no shame and not knowing how to blush. Many of our people have gone down the same road, having no shame and forgetting how to blush – or retch. The answer Jeremiah proposed, which his people rejected, choosing disaster, was this “This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ But you said, `We will not walk in it.’” (Jer 6:16 NIV) Where we walk is a choice we each must make, but never forget that every path leads somewhere.

Long after Jeremiah’s time Paul the apostle gave similar warnings and encouragements to his protege, Timothy, when he said “Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron…. Have nothing to do with godless and silly myths. Train yourself in godliness; (1Tim 4:2, 7 NIV, RSV) Paul warned then that there are people who have little or no conscience left, who have “great sophistication,” and promote destructive ideas. The followers of God need to choose to distance themselves from such distortions and instead be trained in godliness. “Ask for the ancient paths” as Jeremiah had said.

Eighty five generations ago, and many times since, a culture stood at a crossroads, and its citizens rejected the “old values” and chose a path that denied shame and forgot blushing. They didn’t like the consequences, the violence, the oppression, the loss of human dignity and rights, but they had the courage of their depravity and pursued perverse appetites. Frankly, it’s far better to be in the company of people that know when to blush, and when to retch. Choose your road with care.

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