Running and hiding doesn’t immediately summon images of heroism. And to be truthful, a lot of times, running and hiding is simple cowardice. On many occasions, the Lord has called people to obey in the face of seemingly impossible odds. In these instances, backing out would have been succumbing to fear and rebellion.
But as saturated as our culture is with action flicks, we have an immense admiration for crazy guys who look danger in the face and laugh. We cheer when the cinematic protagonist, armed with nothing more than a pie tin and plastic spoon, rallies himself to charge the bad guys head-on as his friends are all begging him not to go and get himself killed. Then, of course, since this is Hollywood, he trounces all opposition, suffering nothing more than the obligatory flesh wound on the bulging bicep. We gawk at and envy this kind of self-assured boldness. We applaud the foolhardiness and invincibility complex, calling it “courage”. We begin to admire real life people who are prepared to forge ahead, come what may, giving no thought to potential consequences.
However, the book of Proverbs shows us that there is a time where the heroic thing is actually to run and hide.
“A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished” (Proverbs 22:3, see also 27:12).
I believe there is a natural application to this — i.e., having the presence of mind to recognize a bad situation and not go there — i.e., “Hmm, there’s a lightning storm outside. This is probably a bad time to fix that shingle on the peak of the roof.”
But what’s striking me most is the spiritual application this has to us as believers.
All too often, we want to be the spiritual action hero. We feel that if we are truly spiritual — and we do have the indwelling Spirit, after all — we should be able to plow ahead through whatever evil temptation and come through unscathed. Hanging out with that certain group of friends? No problem. Dropping in at the cool downtown hotspot? Piece of cake. Alone late at night browsing YouTube? Bring it.
There is a simple phrase that I’ve heard quite a bit from people around my age. It makes me fear for their spiritual safety more than just about anything else. Four little words that carry very bad news: “I can handle it.”
To their credit, it’s true that the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness. It’s true that, by living in a fallen world, we constantly find ourselves in a very unsavory spiritual environment. It’s true that just because temptation is out there, it doesn’t mean we have to cave to it at the first mention.
The problem is, the Bible doesn’t say that the prudent (wise) people “can handle it”. It says that the prudent people hide. The commendation is not for the one who marches up and stares down temptation, but for the one who wants nothing to do with it in the first place.
Paul says it a slightly different way. When writing to Corinth, a church struggling in the middle of an incredibly perverse city, he told them bluntly, “Flee sexual immorality”
(1Cor 6:18). “…[M]y beloved, flee from idolatry” (1Cor 10:14). Both of these things abounded in Corinth. It would take concerted effort and lots of awkward social situations for the Corinthian believers to run away from this kind of sin. But the wickedness of the city had already seeped into the local body of Christ, and their only recourse was to turn tail and run.
That’s all well and good for Corinth, we might say. But Corinth was clearly a mess. They obviously couldn’t handle the pressure.
Perhaps that was so, but we must look again at another couple of letters from the apostle.
Paul was writing to Timothy, who was no rookie believer by any means. Timothy was one of Paul’s right-hand guys. He called him a “true son in the faith” (1Tim 1:2), and had set him as a pastor over a very challenging church situation in Ephesus. Paul would not have worked with Timothy like he did were he not convinced that this was a rock-solid, dedicated man of faith.
However, when it came to matters of greed, discontent and strife, here were his instructions: “But you, O man of God, flee these things…” (1Tim 6:11, emphasis added). In his next letter, he would say again, “Flee also youthful lusts…” (2Tim 2:22). He didn’t tell Timothy to man up and deal with it. He didn’t pat him on the back and tell him that he was mature enough to handle it. He urged him to run the other way.
Jesus Himself taught us to pray, “…do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt 6:13). When it came to temptation, He didn’t just tell us to ask for the guts to stand up to it. He told us to pray that God would help steer us clear of it entirely.
Biblically, there is nothing praiseworthy about putting ourselves in a compromising situation, expecting to weather it. But there is something deeply commendable about running (1Tim 6:11) and hiding (Prov 22:3) from it.
We all have our weak points. We undoubtedly know what most of them are. Perhaps we know that if we call that one friend when we’re having that particular kind of bad day, we will end up in unrighteous conversation. Or maybe we know that if we watch a certain kind of movie, that certain ungodly desire will be stirred up in us. We might recognize that the ads on that one website are a continual harassment to our reach for purity. According to Proverbs, we can foresee the evil that lies there.
So what now? Wisdom doesn’t say grit your teeth and plug through. Wisdom says to hide. Wisdom flees to the Lord before the moment of crisis, asking Him to deliver us from evil before we get there. And then wisdom follows through. It calls the other friend who will (lovingly) hold your feet to the fire in righteousness. It throws the DVD out. It blocks the website from any future access.
Sometimes heroes are called to face down danger. But when the danger is temptation, it is only the fools who rush in and reap the consequences. A people walking wisely with their God recognize the snare and take refuge in their God. In this instance, it may be said that the real heroes run and hide.