The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble. Proverbs 4:18,19
Into the black of night shines the first gleam of dawn, dispelling the darkness and giving sight to our eyes. This experience of first light and the ability to see is a metaphor for the spiritual light that shines into our hearts when we follow the way of godly wisdom and walk in the path of righteousness. The righteous can see the dangers of foolish living because God’s light, mediated through the wise words of the Sage and other godly teachers, enlightens their heart. In the wisdom of Proverbs, such behavior as anger, resentment, adultery, excessive spending, gossip, miserliness, inconsiderate humor, lying, violence, theft, laziness, incessant talking, and unreflective speech are foolish and sinful. The wise pursue the path away from these things, continually seeking the light of God.
The wicked do not live in the light but in the darkness, so they can not see the dangers that follow sinful and foolish living. They stumble along, as in the black of night, losing friendships, getting into trouble, losing their money, constantly arguing and fighting, shattering families, and they "do not know what makes them stumble," even though it is their own behavior. Two common responses of foolish people to the harm that comes into their lives is, "It is someone else’s fault" and "Why am I always so unlucky?"
I’ve learned that even those who pursue the light, and try living wisely, encounter situations that make them stumble and they do not know why. They try to maintain healthy attitudes of love and gratitude and they try to live righteously, but they occasionally find themselves inexplicably acting out of character. They may explode in anger, flirt, accept the amorous overtures of a stranger, act immorally, or tear down another’s reputation. How can ten or fifteen years of righteous living be disrupted by such unusual behavior in a good person’s life?
A preacher meeting with a young ministry couple told them, "If you have any unresolved issues in your lives, address them now, early in your marriage and ministry. If you have any neglect, abuse, deep-seated anger, or aberrant behavior, get it out and address it now. Seek counseling if you need help identifying and addressing some of the problems. A few years from now the pressures of marriage, family and ministry will squeeze you like a sponge, and if you don’t have your inner issues resolved, they will erupt out of your life with ugly and destructive force."
My friend and fellow preacher, Leslie Chapman, says we all have land mines in our lives. A land mine is an explosive device used by the military during a war. It is buried just under the surface of the ground, typically on a path frequented by the opposition. An enemy soldier walking along will unknowingly step on the land mine and trigger the mechanism, causing an explosion that will surely maim, and possibly kill, the soldier who stepped on it and others standing nearby.
Usually after a war land mines are removed. But, they can’t always be accounted for and some remain in place even after hostilities have ceased. Many of the land mines Russia buried in Afghanistan in the 1980s were not removed at the end of the war, and years afterwards civilians were injured and killed when they unsuspectingly stepped on one. The force of the bomb, which should have been exploded during the initial hostilities, remained buried and out of sight, and caused its destruction years later against innocent people.
Land mines in our lives are like that, too. Even after righteous living for many years, an event or conversation can trigger a land mine that has been buried in our lives for years, even decades. The trigger might be a perceived slight, an injustice, financial pressure, changes in the home, business failure, and a host of other things. The trigger takes us back, immediately, to the emotions of the abuse, unresolved hurts, anger or moral failure we experienced years before. In nanoseconds we relieve the original experience and feel the emotions of it. So, when we react to the trigger event, we are not responding to it like we think we are, but the to unresolved event from years before. And, like the land mine, we explode with destructive force against innocent people who had nothing to do with our original problems.
Land mines in our lives can take several forms. For some, significant pressure can lead them to explode in wrath and rage. They may make harsh accusations and even threats. When the rage subsides and emotions settle, they will ask themselves, "What just happened? Why did I do that? I’m not even that upset with the guy, in fact, he is my friend."
For someone else, significant stress and pressure, particularly if it is at home, may lead them to seek relief in the wrong set of arms. But, feeling failure or lack of appreciation at work can be triggers for immoral behavior, too. Someone dwelling excessively on self-pitying emotions and thinking "I deserve to be treated better," is a prime candidate for an affair. There is a man or woman out there who is equally desperate for attention, and will readily grant you the understanding and affection you seek.
Land mine explosions are not limited to angry eruptions or adultery. They can include belittling humor, pornography, stealing, lying, and violence. A land mine explosion is any behavior that is foolish or sinful and is out of character for the person performing it. After their aberrant and unusual acting out they wonder where the bad attitudes and behavior came from. Like the man walking in darkness, they do not know what made them stumble.
You can not undo a land mine, but you can learn from it and even profit from it. Here are some suggestions for dealing with the land mine episodes in your life.
One, own the emotions and behavior. Yes, it may have been out of character, but you said it or did it. You are guilty, so admit it. Denying, minimizing or dismissing the sinfulness and destructiveness of your actions will not erase them, but will simply re-bury the land mine, readying it with another deadly charge. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8). Openness and honesty are the beginning steps to shine light into the darkness of our hearts and purge the evil.
Two, Take stock of what happened. What was the trigger that made you explode? Why were you so unstable and combustible? Have similar events happened in your past that you never addressed then? Is it possible that these past experiences are lying just under the surface of your heart and are too easily activated? Talking to a friend or even a counselor may help identify patterns in your life and behavior that will reveal unresolved issues.
Three, don’t blame anyone else for your current problems or even past ones. Parents who were neglectful, siblings who were abusive or former employers who were unappreciative may explain some of your unstable tendencies, but simply blaming them will not relieve you of the problems. The problems are yours to deal with.
Four, make amends when possible and appropriate to anyone you have hurt. Apologize, make repayment for anything you have damaged or taken, seek reconciliation. A third party may be necessary to help with this.
Five, work on your character. Continue walking in the path of righteousness. Seek God’s will for all things in your life. Pray for strength in your areas of weakness. Do not leave the land mines in your life unresolved. Left unattended they will eventually explode, and the damage they cause can be irreparable.
Through Christ we have been set free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2). But, even though we have crossed from death to life in Christ, the heart continues to be a battleground where the old man of sin and the new man of righteousness struggle for control. We have to submit to the Spirit of Christ that now reigns in our hearts and is actively working to purge the sinful nature. "Therefore, do not let sin (a land mine?) reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires" (Rom. 8:12).
God is working to purge our lives of darkness and the foolishness, sin and land mines that proliferate in it. Submit your will to his, humbly and honestly admit sin, and seek God’s work in your life for character transformation.