An odd thing happened to me, a few months ago. Well, not odd in the grand scheme of life, but unexpected. I spotted my first grey hair. I instinctively cut it out, because I’m not going grey. But then, earlier this week, I saw another, and left it.
The proverbs reading today talks comprehensively about wickedness, and not having any part in it. About your lips and mouth, your heart, your feet and the ways they walk in. I think it does that because we’re human. It’s all very well to say “don’t do bad things”, and we think of the actions we consciously do, like deciding how to spend our quality time, or our disposable income. But for it to go through every body part and contextualize it suggests something a bit more radical.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the illusion that our politics and thought life by far outweighs our physicality, in a kind of neo-gnosticism that dismisses our physical bodies in favour of higher things. But the world is made of stuff, and people are made of parts of their body, which do things. The parallels between my body, God’s ‘body’ and the body of the wicked person are quite clear in Psalm 17.
- In my body: my prayer is not from deceitful lips, I have purposed that my mouth shall not transgress and my speech is heard by God. God has tested my heart. My footsteps may not slip in God’s paths as He upholds them, although the wicked have surrounded me in my steps;
- In God’s body: I ask him to give ear to my prayer, and later incline his ear to me, and hear my speech. I ask him to let his eyes look on the things that are upright, and I am kept as the apple of his eye. The word of his lips keeps me from destruction, I see his face in righteousness. He shows his loving kindness by his right hand – with his hand and with his sword I ask him to deliver my life from the wicked. And I am hidden under the shadow of his wing. (How you wield a sword when you have wings, I don’t know. It’s a feathery accident waiting to happen.)
- In the wicked person’s body: with their mouths they speak proudly; they have set their eyes, crouching down to the earth; they have closed up their fat hearts; their belly is filled with hidden treasure – they have their portion in this life.
But it ends with I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness. So we’re aiming for our bodies to have the second lot of characteristics – our words keeping others from destruction, our steps a sure path for others to tread in, and our arms having that magical property of both wielding a sword to deliver people from wickedness while at the same time hiding them under our wing.
And there’s a challenge, for complete coverage. Every part of our body must be directed to righteousness. Not just being righteous in our thought life, but also our action. Not just where we go, but also what we look at when we go there. It’s a tall order. But on the next page, there’s our help. God makes us do good, not just us. He gives us the courage and bounce and strength and battle skills we need:
For by You I can run against a troop, By my God I can leap over a wall.
It is God who arms me with strength, And makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of deer, And sets me on my high places. He teaches my hands to make war, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them; Neither did I turn back again till they were destroyed. I have wounded them, So that they could not rise; They have fallen under my feet. For You have armed me with strength for the battle.
(Ps 18:29-39, selected verses)
So what’s this got to do with my hair? Well, although we know God knows how many hairs are on our heads, we can’t possibly count them, and to notice if one is about to go grey would be impossible. Equally, life is complex. I’m not going for the moral relativism argument of ‘what’s right for me’, and denying responsibility for unintended consequences of my actions, quite the opposite. I’m saying that alone, we couldn’t keep track of all the things in our life and making every one of them, and every consequence of every one of our actions, right. We need to seek God’s help, the Spirit’s revelation, Jesus’ example.
For me, it’s easiest to allow those things that are continually at the end of the to-do list to fester, to sit there forever until they become a habitual area of neglect. Things like researching how ethically, or not, my clothes are made, and working out where I can still shop, and how confidently. So maybe I don’t bother finding out about the next item I buy, that’s not too bad, is it? One grey item in a wardrobe of colour. But I become so complacent in letting these little things persist, that before I notice, a whole wardrobe of my life has gone grey, inaction by inaction, and the colour of the things I was focussing on maintaining is not enough to distract attention from the guilt-inducing grey. And in other areas too, I stop praying about the little things or asking friends to keep me accountable. I begin to feel apathetic about them, and compare myself to others, rather than God’s high standards.
We can’t do this by ourselves. We need God. He knows every hair on our head, even the one that’s about to go grey.