‘I know what you would say, and it would sound like wisdom but for the warning in my heart.’-Frodo, The Lord of the Rings
I love the Lord of the Rings. There is SO much to mine from an epic like that, and I continually find gems. Today, a new gem. The scene takes place late in the first part of the story, after Frodo has taken the ring, along with the Fellowship who is tasked with protecting him, on a long and arduous journey. They find themselves resting on the bank of a river, and Frodo has gone off to be alone. Boromir comes alongside and begins talking with Frodo. He tells Frodo that there are other ways, other paths they might take, rather than the extremely difficult and dangerous one Frodo knows must be taken. It is at this point that Frodo utters the phrase above, sensing the ulterior motive in Boromir’s words of counsel. There’s nothing on the surface of what Boromir says that sounds wrong, yet Frodo….senses something else…
“I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. So be as cunning as snakes but as innocent as doves.”-Matthew 10:16
We live in a dangerous world. To be sure, there are absolutely beautiful things about this world, beautiful hearts, and beautiful motives. But even here, in the midst of this beauty, there is a dark danger; this danger is what could be classified as a “sin of omission”. No action need be taken in order for this evil to take root-no, in fact, this danger depends upon the old adage that “ignorance is bliss”. The scripture above warns us that we are in a dangerous world, and in order to survive this world, we need to be as cunning as snakes but as innocent as doves.
My fear is that we have become about as cunning as doves…and about as innocent as snakes.
I’ve been a dove hunter since I was about nine years old. It’s one of my favorite pastimes. My dad took me when I was a kid, to a hunt on my grandfather’s land…and I was hooked. Doves aren’t the most strategic animals on the planet. They will fly, unwittingly, right into a field full of hunters, then appear to be completely dumbfounded when the hunters do what hunters do. One day, with 70 hunters in the field, we harvested close to 600 birds. The birds just kept coming back around, and we kept shooting. It was a great day of hunting.
Doves are, as we say in the South, good eatin’. A dove breast, marinated, wrapped in bacon, and cooked on the grill is a treat. Problem is, the dove would likely prefer not to be in this condition. The dove would rather fly free. But doves are innocent, and in a field of hunters, innocence alone will turn you into hors d’oeuvres.
Then there is the bull elk. Elk, like dove, are good eating. They, like the dove, are hunted. But they possess something the dove doesn’t have.
Elk are wily creatures, very sensitive to their surroundings. An elk can sniff out a hunter and be gone before the hunter even knew he was there. A snapped twig can be the end of a hunter’s day, as can a subtle shift in the wind, because the elk can sense danger like few other animals. The elk might be taken, but the hunter will have to work much harder to obtain his prize.
There is a lot going on in our world today. And my fear is that politically, geopolitically, socially, and morally…we are becoming as cunning as doves, and as innocent as snakes. We are lowering our antennae when they should be as high as possible, and on the most sensitive settings. Out of a sense of love, (which is a good thing) we are calling for the taking in of thousands upon thousands of “refugees”, never considering that many may be wolves in sheep’s clothing, or that there is a bigger, much older, plan afoot. Out of a sense of anger at political folly, we are rallying around sales pitches from master salesmen who know what to say in order to get folks to line up to purchase nothing but snake oil. Without discernment ( being cunning as snakes), our efforts at benevolence and justice (being as innocent as doves) will make us fodder, and little else. Without cunning, innocence is useless, except as food for wolves.
I understand the need to be kind, compassionate, loving, and accepting. Really I do. It’s what makes us human.
I understand being fed up with the Washington machine, the cronyism, the desire for ‘change’. We’d be foolish not to want something different.
But when we approach these things without cunning, with simply the raw emotion and innocent desire for better, we toss aside our misgivings, those warnings that we should be heeding, and wander right into the traps we didn’t stop to look for.
Scripture is written in such a way that nothing is haphazard. Nothing is incidental. There is a purpose to everything, right down to the structure of sentences. The fact that we are told to be as cunning as snakes before being told to be innocent as doves is no accident. It is intentional. There is an old proverb that illustrates it well: “If a man is as wise as a serpent, he can afford to be as innocent as a dove.”
It doesn’t work any other way.
And so I’m asking everyone reading this to stop charging headlong into what feels right. Bone up on history. Watch the debates. Listen carefully. Take a moment to put your heads on a swivel. Sniff at the wind. Listen for the cracking twig, the rustling brush. Be alert. The enemy prowls around as a roaring lion.
And lions love the taste of sheep.