Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Wisdom of Ben Wade

Well, not really.

But the scripture-quoting, gang-leading thief and murderer in the Old West flick 3:10 to Yuma recited a dandy when he dropped Proverbs 21:2 out at the dinner table. Forgive me for being behind the times, but this little verse that basically summed up Wade's personal creed, and Byron McElroy's - the bounty hunter he aimed it at - for that matter, isn't one I should so easily dismiss.

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart. ~ Proverbs 21: 2

Boyoboy. I remember the first time I watched the movie a couple of years ago, and how that verse struck me in the theater.

It's certainly obvious to see how Wade wanted it to hit McElroy - and to put him into place in the context of their discussion and audience at the Evans' dinner table. Despite Wade's own use of the Bible as a weapon aimed at others -- a la Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield, in Pulp Fiction, and there are certainly other examples -- he no doubt meant this verse as a personal self-condemnation as well. As a Bible verse used in a movie for tens of thousands to see, Wade's words are a large mirror at which we all can gaze.

People, people like me, make all these choices, decisions, acts, sentences, writings, etc. in this life for whatever reason we rationalize at that moment. We choose to do whatever it is we do, and then we live with ourselves and love ourselves. We're all misers and philanthopists. Chiefs and indians. Givers and takers. Lovers and leavers. Good-hearted and mean-spirited. All at different times. Others applaud us, and we take a bow. They hug us, and we feel warm inside. They yell at us, we bite back. We hurt them, and sometimes we admit we're sorry, while other times, we dig trenches. We make wretched mistakes along the way and either believe we were right or forgive ourselves and rock along merrily because that's how we roll. We love ourselves with a grandiose self-love. At times, we find it in us to love others.

I like what C.S Lewis said in Mere Christianity. It's from Book III, Chapter 4, "Morality and Psychoanalysis." He writes:

I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you , the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature...

For a guy who's made some decent choices and a boatload of bad ones, that's not a lot of comfort. It is, on the other hand, a pretty sobering message. Reminds me of the The Call's song, "I Don't Wanna", where Michael Been's lyrics almost shout - I can only hope that I can see, out beyond the skin that covers me... Too often (and here, the word "too" means: most, most, most of the time), I don't. Seems like it'd be easy if I really loved God and loved others... really, really loved Him and them. Somehow, that equation, m(G + O) = C [where m is me, G is Loving God, O = Loving Others, and C adds up to Good Choices], doesn't always come out right. There's a glitch in the m variable. Once I got to calculus, mathematics never did make that much sense. I was always better at English and Literature.

Which is why I'm on a blog quoting Ben Wade and not Blaise Pascal.


DugALug said...

How about this for an equation:

(G + o)
C = -------

The higher the number, the better the choice. So as me goes to zero my quality of choice goes through the roof....

Nice article Rich... you da man!

Rich said...

I think I was wrong about the changing variable anyway. I think the ones that vary are the G and O. Well, the m changes as well, but so do the others. Math, schmath.

BUT, I like what you said about the m approaching zero. That's gold.

Kevin Knox said...

Good to see Pearce and Story out here again. I look forward to more "something or nothing" opportunities. :-)

I've had a couple run-ins with this verse. I think the emphasis has to be on the "b" part of the verse, not the start. What man does what's wrong in his own eyes? Only the most disturbed.

An awful lot of people tried to convince me that I should not do what was right in my own eyes. They spouted some kind of jibberish about the Spirit's leading or the scriptures or some such, but when all was said and done I was doing what was right in my own eyes. I was just calling it right because I thought I saw it in scripture or felt it while praying.

The verse is right. We really do exactly what is right in our best estimation.

But then the second part of the verse is just as freeing. It says that I don't judge my own heart. The Lord weighs my heart. It says I can turn it all over to the Lord, and He will see how far along I am.

I can do what is right in my eyes, right in the eyes of my brothers, right in the eyes of the church, and God will weigh my heart. It's like when a kid passes on some ice cream, but the mother knows he's only doing it to impress someone. Or when he goes back for seconds, but Mom knows he really needs it tonight.

The Lord may even register something of substance when He weighs the heart that wrote this comment. It seemed right to me. ;-)

Rich said...

Really good perspective, Kevin, as always.

That last paragraph... I was sort of thinking about the Lord weighing my heart when I wrote the post. Of course, He's there when I write any post... or say any word... or do anything... or take any breath.

But honestly, if I always lived like I had that realization, my life would probably look a lot different. Wouldn't everyone's?

That's why I quoted Lewis. My heart's not where it should be - at least not yet. But every day we have more instances where we make more choices. Theoretically, well more than in theory but I'll use the word, I'm sure as an overview, the more our will matches His will in each of those choices (and when we're doing them out of joy and love for Him and others rather than obligation or other reasons), the more when God measures our hearts, we'll be far closer to the "Well done, my good and faithful servant" than we were previously.

It's just so much easier for me to write that than it is to live that. And when I say "much easier"... well, you know...

Rich said...

The other thing that's funny about what you wrote, Kevin, is the whole dynamic of when other people are giving you advice. Here are people doing exactly what they think are right, telling you not to do what you think is right, but then you have to make a final decision on what comes down to what you think is right, and it will probably affect someone else who may not think what you did was right or what other people told you was right. Isn't that right? :)

From God's eye view, that's probably pretty humorous. The dynamics of life.

Then again, you probably didn't think it was funny at all at the time, or even in retrospect. ;)

Kevin Knox said...

Yeah. There's just nothing like taking a chance and saying something risky to your kid when you know they report every stray word to your ex.

If God was looking to make this life a no-kidding proving ground, He done good.

Kevin Knox said...

Oh, and on the equation. I wonder if you can't just remove your love for God from the equation? Your love for others is the only true measure of your love for God, anyway.


Rich said...

I think what I need is a mathematician, someone who knows what he or she is doing, to come up with a new equation.

In fact, what is it that I wrote anyway? A bi-nomial? Poly-nomial? Someone tell me it's a differential equation so I feel smarter.

There's probably a 2+2=5 addition fact that solves everything.

DugALug said...

For the record... I like equations.

As to Kevin's comment about Love of God being shown only in our love of others. I can't say I agree with this.

My love for God affects decisions that affect me. I don't need anyone around to sin against God. I can sin real well without anyone outside input. If I truly love the Lord, I will probably try to refrain from doing things against His Will or insight.

DugALug said...

BTW my 'equation' didn't come out looking right. How about this:

C = (G + o) / m

That will look better!