My spell checker means well, but, no, I don’t mean “ranger.” I mean rager. Though there is a close connection between the two.
Proverbs 18:1 warns us, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgement.” Those who choose the lone ranger approach to life will ultimately find themselves very alone, and raging. That should frighten us. At the least, it should be a sobering realisation. Isolating ourselves from our fellow Christians may morph us into a raging bull. And the results will be disastrous in the proverbial china shop of life.
The writer characterises the lone ranger as a self-willed person who obstinately contends with those who otherwise could speak helpfully into their life. They will therefore miss out on sound counsel. And they will pay a very heavy price, for the Bible reveals that the way of wisdom is the way of blessing (Psalm 1:1–3). Raging against the wise way is, well, the wrong way.
The word “isolate” connotes “to spread or separate” oneself. It implies “to divide” or “to be out of joint.” It points to the act of severing oneself from others. We observe this in many spheres of life, including the church. Sometimes church members sever themselves from the Body with the outcome of angry and unproductive, because self-willed, living. They will not listen to others and therefore the biblical change they could have is forfeited. That is both sad and unnecessary. Why do Christians do this? I would suggest that two main reasons are fear and (a related cause) failure.
Some fear being exposed. Transparency can be very traumatic. The thought of others seeing our faults can tempt us to withdraw from one another. It can be painful to face the facts. And so, for this reason, many refuse to connect to a small group in the church. This fear of transparency can also tempt us to withdraw from corporate prayer and worship. Many are self-conscious about their ability to pray. But this is like being self-conscious about how you breathe! Further, withdrawal from corporate worship may be a way to avoid the fear of personal sin being exposed in my life and so all the better to stay away. Ignorance may not be bliss “but,” we think, “it sure beats having to deal with the reality of sin in my own heart.”
Related to this is the isolating power of failure. We grow weary of committing the same sin over and over. In the face of repeated failure, we tire of the battle to apply truth. Perhaps we have been raised to see failure as final, or at least, to see it as that which defines us as “unacceptable.” So, rather than being reminded of blowing it once again, rather than being reminded once again that we do not match up, we choose the cocoon of self-deception. We tell ourselves that we are okay and we avoid, through relational separation, the light of truth that might unmask our true condition. As Jackson Browne sings, “Don’t confront me with my failures, I have not forgotten them.” I get this. In fact, all too often, I have succumbed to the alluring temptation to avoid the need both to be confronted and to confront. And in each case, I end up playing the fool.
Church life is difficult—that is, for those who take it seriously. As we interact with one another we are confronted with our need to change. It is at this point when our pride may rear its ugly and destructive head, tempting us to turn our heads away from others. After all, it is not very flattering to be told that we are wrong—especially when we are persuaded that we are so right! It is this very temptation to rage that this God-breathed proverb warns us against. It is a warning against breaking out in contention, a warning against becoming obstinate. It is a warning against the destructive results of foolishly following our self-will. This is what the proverb refers to by the words “seeks his own desire.”
“Desire” means a longing, and it implies that in which one delights. This is precisely our problem. We delight in having our own way. We delight in being correct. And we don’t delight in being corrected! Therefore, when told that there is a better way, a way characterised by “wise judgement,” we feel judged and are therefore tempted to withdraw. And if we remain isolated, then our initial rebuff of others becomes entrenched rejection—usually with an increasing rage. This is the path of folly. This is why we need fellowship and friends.
We all need true friends who will speak truth into our lives—even when the truth hurts. Yes, we need people who will encourage us; we need affirmation. Too many people are wilting away because of the sound of silence. Yet, at the same time, blowing sunshine on one another all day is not very healthy. Sometimes we need those grey clouds of rebuke and correction. Yet all too often we choose to avoid the rainclouds of correction with the umbrellas of isolation. We seclude ourselves from others by constructing walls of busyness, or by the stiff arm of unfriendliness and avoidance. We cut ourselves off from others. We obstinately rage against those who try to help us. The pathetic consequence is that the lone ranger morphs further into a lone rager, eventually characterised by a life in ruins.
We have seen that fear and failure may tempt us to be a lone rager. But ultimately the cause is a faith problem. Specifically, we don’t believe the gospel. We don’t believe that, in Tim Keller’s words, we are far more sinful than we ever dared to think, while at the same time we are loved far more than we would ever have dared to hope. That is, God loves those whom His Son has saved and He will continue to love us—regardless of our failures. This knowledge will humble us and such humility will drive out fear, making way for love—love for the Body of Christ. We therefore will be drawn towards others—not away from them. It will drive us to selfless relationships and away from selfish rage. We need one another as we pursue change to the glory of God. Interestingly, even the Lone Ranger had a Tonto. Who is yours?