The Third Way...Why destroy yourself?

Ecclesiastes 7:16-18

16 Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?

17 Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time?

18 It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.


"Why destroy yourself?"

"Why die before your time?"

This is the natural consequence of taking things to shocking extremes. Overstating truth to make a point. Overcompensating for the sake of personal security. Overreacting to pain or pleasure, sinhood or sainthood. Overkill, more than not, leads to destruction and death, it's only a matter of time.

I know from personal experience what it's like to destroy yourself with steroidal righteousness. The New Testament calls it self-righteousness, false humility, and self-imposed worship (Colossians). "Don't taste, Don't touch, Don't eat." It goes on to say these things are destined to die with use because they possess no ability to transform, to free. It's moving away from one precipice only to fall backwards off another one.

The inner turmoil that accompanies policing your rightness--your righteousness--leads to self-destruction. Another way of saying it is that you're only "hurting yourself". You become the victim and the villain. Self-sabatoge. It's hard to see it when you're doing this to yourself, but it's sure easy to watch it happening to someone else.

They can't relax. They are always on guard. They struggle to admit mistakes even though they painfully aware of every shortcoming within themselves. They hold themselves to standards that are impossible to achieve. (And so it stands to reason they hold others to fulfill unspoken checklists of holiness as well) They are not forgiving on themselves when they fail. They torture themselves with acts of penance to make up for lost time, or lost opportunities. They beat themselves up over the slightest misstep. Self-flaggelation.

It seems weird, what with all the self-hatred, but it's easy to concurrently feel superior to others around you because you're working hard and they are obviously not. You are "beating your body and making it your slave" and they are "footloose and fancy free". It's easy to falsely think yourself like Jesus saying "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they are doing." Which may be true, but what is also be said without being said is this, "They don't know what they are doing...but I do." I'm self-aware, they are clueless. I'm at least trying to be good, they aren't. In this state of mind the abiding thought is this: "I am. They aren't."

So you have an insidious formula for self-destruction. On the one hand you're flogging yourself for any little peccadillo, but you're also congratulating yourself for your behavioral supremacy. Self-grandizing and self-debasing all at the same time. Both better and worse than those around you. Either above or below almost everyone you encounter. It has to be one or the other, because there is no middle ground. There is no "Third Way".

"Why destroy yourself?" Good question. Who would you do this? Who would want to do this?

But we do--all of us. We take this option 9 times out of 10 because it makes us feel like we're earning our keep, paying our dues. I can't always put my finger on why, but I feel a sense of comfort when I know I'm controlling input and outcomes. I don't want anyone's handout. I don't want to feel like someone's pet project. I don't want to be see as a freeloader. I don't want anyone's pity. I don't want anyone's grace. I hate grace. I don't want it and I won't give it.


"Why die before your time?" This one needs little elaboration, because we all know this is the inevitable end of a person who chucks caution to the wind and lives on the edge. Sinning like there's no tomorrow, cheating death, feeling invincible. Selfishly following every carnal urge without much thought of consequence. This is the natural destination of myopic mankind, premature death. Immature life leads to premature death, 9 times out of 10. You can't live with a wholesale disregard for the laws of the natural and the supernatural without pay the price. It catches up to you.

It's fun for a season. Or as my parents used to say, "It was fun while it lasted." But when it ends, it crashes down and crushes it's unsuspecting victims. In many ways, they are dead before they actually die. The soul is dying and waiting for the body to catch up.

16 Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?

17 Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time?

The older I get, the more I realize that God knows what He's talking about. This stuff isn't in the Bible as filler to make for a big book, a New York Times best seller. It's in there because God is brilliant. He knows what eats our insides out like cancer. He knows the leprous sore that lead to amputation. He warns us because he wants us. He wants us whole.

He who has ears, let him hear.

One of my favorite Jesus quotes. Jesus was cool like that.


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