“passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness…” – Proverbs 7: 8-9
You can usually tell in the first few minutes of a movie, what kind of movie it is. You have a sense. You get a feeling. The colors, the scenery, the music, the camera angles, and the types of characters involved all set the mood. They are evoking a sort of atmosphere that your mind takes in as a whole. The setting matters. Or to put it more dramatically, the setting is the substance.
That’s why most of us haven’t booked vacations to North Korea, or winter homes in North Dakota. We know that our setting wields a massive power over our whole person – our activities, our conversations, and our mentality. These verses illustrate that truth in the realm of thinking through temptation and our response to it.
On the wrong street
The protagonist in Solomon’s parable in chapter 7 is a young man, lacking sense, who ultimately commits adultery, thus destroying himself. But the affair doesn’t happen without a context. He doesn’t determine to set out and pursue adultery as the conclusion of a cool, rational debate carried out in the quiet of his study.
The young man happens to find himself wandering down a certain street, near the house of a certain woman, at a certain time of day. That by itself is not the end of the matter. He still wants to be persuaded. He wants to be struck, drawn, and carried along by a desire. James says we don’t sin out of the blue, but are lured and enticed by our own desire. (Js 1:14)
The moment of sin is never purely a moment. Temptation comes through links along a chain. And the more serious the sin, the more links there will be along the way. Sometimes those links happen so rapidly that it’s hard to disentangle the sequence of events, but there is a sequence. Our lives don’t occur in punctuated dots of meaning. We are always setting the context of a future moment by our decisions in the present.
Surroundings have substance
This proverb is a call for us to examine our surroundings. Of course, many times we do react instantaneously (almost), with no time to ponder the subtle contextual cues affecting us. In these cases, it can often help to examine those cues afterward. Why did I respond in the way that I did? Why did I feel so dissatisfied, or bored, or angry? Many times the surroundings which most affect our propensity to succumb to a temptation or to resist it have to do with the state of our hearts. Then there are specific surroundings behind that state of heart. This is not to argue that human beings are helpless victims of circumstance. It takes humility and wisdom to acknowledge that we are more shaped by our surroundings than we like to admit. We all know there’s a time and a place to start into a home project, and a time and a place to go sightseeing. Those two are probably not the same. God wants us in the same way to consider our setting when it comes to our spiritual health and success.