• John Stevick

The Pernicious Power of Proximity

I had seen them as I walked into work for weeks now as they lounged in our parking lot. I had heard stories of their notorious actions against coworkers in other departments. I had seen videos of them attacking people. News outlets said they were dangerous and easily provoked. They roamed about in groups just looking for a fight. I am of course referring to the nastiest of avian infestations: geese.

Now I know what you are thinking. Geese aren't exactly the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of dangerous animals. Nonetheless, the humble goose can surprise many people with its aggressive nature. I learned that the hard way after leaving work a few days ago. While walking to my car, I saw a solitary goose sitting on the right side of the sidewalk. Thinking I could give it a wide enough berth, I moved to the left side. But alas, when I neared, the feathered fiend rose to meet me, raising its wings, opening its beak, and unleashing a terrifying hiss. I tried backing away slowly, but the nasty sucker chased me down the sidewalk until I tripped and fell into the parking lot. Two bruised knees, one sprained hand, and a nearly broken phone screen (thank you Otterbox!) were my "reward" for not heeding the warnings about these seemingly innocuous creatures. What this clandestine meeting between me, the goose, and the asphalt showed me was the pernicious power of proximity.

Drawing near to danger, particularly when you know beforehand about said danger, is foolish, and often, disastrous. In Genesis 13, Abraham (still Abram at this point) and his nephew Lot chose to separate so that they each had enough room to dwell in the land. Abram gave Lot first pick, and he looked out and saw the Jordan Valley was a flourishing place. However, it was also the land where Sodom and Gomorrah ruled. Based on how the text reads and our modern understanding of the geography of the area, it is highly likely that Lot could see Sodom in the distance as he and Abram decided on how to proceed. I imagine the city looked rather innocuous to Lot at that distance. It was no secret that the men of Sodom were wicked sinners (Gen 13:13), and I have no doubt Lot knew this as he moved towards the Jordan Valley. I imagine Lot thought he was safe because he could give the city a wide enough berth. Sadly, we soon see the cost of righteous Lot’s willing proximity to sin.

Psalm 1:1 states, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers." Commenting on the progression in this passage, the preacher Terry Anderson puts it succinctly:

"If you walk with them, you'll behave like them. If you stand with them, you'll believe like them. And if you sit with them, you'll belong to them."

As the wrath of God is poured out on Sodom, we see Lot's family move through this progression with startling speed. Lot, having now moved from dwelling in his tent to a brick-and-mortar home inside the city, behaved like Sodom when in the heat of the moment he offered his daughters to the men seeking to defile the angels, proving that "bad company corrupts good morals." Lot's wife, used by Jesus himself as a metaphor for unbelief, believed like Sodom when she mistrusted God and was turned to a pillar of salt, showing that "the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution." Finally, Lot's daughters, originally set to be married off to Sodomite men, belonged to Sodom when they engaged in the incestuous rape of their father in the misguided attempt to provide him heirs, thus committing an "abomination" both on par with that of the men of Sodom and whose conciquences would be felt by generations of Israelites.

The total breakdown of Lot’s family, both physically and spiritually, is a terrifying example of the speed at which sin can snowball out of control. The kindling for this disaster was Lot’s willing proximity to wickedness, a common and deadly ally of temptation. When we like Lot willingly enter into places and go around people we know we should not, it opens ourselves up to falling into the very sin we hope to avoid. This is especially true when we hope to somehow benefit from being in the presence of our proverbial “golden goose” as it were. Avoiding the same fate means that, at minimum, we do not associate with immoral people or places of immortality.

It is important to hear what I am not saying. It is necessary for the work of missions and the great commission for us to go into dark places to bring the light of the Gospel to a dying world. How, then, is it possible to live “in the world”, which is full of sin, without becoming “of the world”? Blessedly, proximity does not only serve the enemy of our souls. God’s Word is full of calls to dwell near to him:

“Come to me all who are weak and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

“How blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near to You to dwell in Your courts.”

“The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.”

This proximity to God, which we are brought into by redemption through Christ, is the key to living a holy life in a dark world. However, this does not simply happen by spiritual osmosis. We aren’t simply to dwell near God, but walk with Him in all that we do. When we do this, we find the prosperity Lot was hoping for, not in worldly things, but in heavenly treasure. Psalm 1 again speaks to this truth, saying those who delight in the Lord and his Word are “like trees planted by the still waters who yield abundant fruit in every season and whose leaves never weither.”

We live in a broken world. We know what is dangerous and why it is dangerous, and we must be sober-minded with our eyes on God if we wish to survive. While we cannot remove ourselves completely from the presence of sin on this side of heaven, we are called to live holy lives set apart for service to God. The way to avoid the legalism often associated with this command is to structure our lives under the banner of Jesus' love and sacrifice that paid the price for our sin, freeing us from the power of sin and death.

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