I grew up enjoying TV shows like Gunsmoke and Bonanza. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood westerns were always a treat, especially since they played good guys who would wreak havoc on the bad guys.
While the bad guys were outlaws, their names are etched in the fabric of American history alongside our heroes. Names like Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, Jesse James, and Billy the Kid are immortalized in our folklore. Just not for the best reasons.
Billy the Kid was 14 when his life was interrupted and intersected by the gun barrel of Sheriff Pat Garrett. Jesses James took a bullet in the back from an ornery gang member in his mid 30’s. Butch Cassidy survived all the way to age 42, until he ran into a band of Bolivians that did not appreciate his penchant for bank robbery. These are not the kind of fellows any parent hopes their daughter would ever bring home to impress them.
The lives and deaths of these “famous” western outlaws find countless parallels in the 21st century and demonstrate once again the truths of Scripture. Jesus once said to Peter that, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). The apostle Paul told the Galatians, “God will not be mocked…you will reap what you sow” (6:7).
But do those ideas hold up as we examine history past and present? Evil people still die of old age. Nazis escaped prosecution after World War 2 and lived in luxury for decades after killing millions, just like mass murderers Stalin, Pol-Pot and Mao Tse-Tung.
Read Proverbs 1:8-19. How do we assess the veracity of the Proverbs?
First, we need to recognize the genre (or literary style) of wisdom literature. Proverbs are not promises, but general truths. It does not stand to reason that everyone who lives violently will die in that same manner. While everyone will eventually die, it does not mean every good person will make it to their 70’s or beyond, either.
Second, the Bible balances everyday reality with brutally honest (and hard) questions like Jeremiah asked in 12:1, “Why do the wicked prosper?” When the God-lover Job lost his children and his wealth in one day, he yelled to the heavens in 13:1, “Why did I not perish at birth?” These good men learned the hard way that on planet Earth, the idea of justice is often worst case, an illusion, or a cruel lie. Best case, God will handle it.
Third, all the Proverbs in the Bible are trustworthy. God will judge everyone. God cannot be mocked. A man or woman will reap what they sow. What you are in secret will eventually come into the light. If we could see our lives from the perspective of God’s viewpoint, we would understand that no one gets away with murder.
Would Billy the Kid have benefited from reading the Proverbs? For all we know, his parents told him what I told my kids, “Read and practice a Proverb a day for the rest of your lives, and you’ll stay out of trouble.” Grow devotionally. The Proverbs are God’s eternal truths in bite-sized pieces you can easily digest. Proverbs aren’t promises. They are practical life truths that when applied, will keep your picture out of the Post Office.
Love is a verb,