“Wisdom is the focus of the perceptive, but a fool’s eyes roam to the ends of the earth.” -Proverbs 17:24
Yesterday Kate and I were at the airport picking up mom. Taking the escalator down to where people were checking in, I told my daughter that every time I walk into PDX I get this rush to board a plane. Ever since my first overseas venture in 1989, I have this wandering spirit inside of me–even though I hate the long lines, rude TSA agents, lost bags, cramped seats and annoying passengers. I am still ready to go to the ends of the earth.
But wisdom gives some caution here. A wandering spirit isn’t always a good thing. As with most proverbs, he uses two lines to contrast the wise and the foolish. The discerning can see the wisdom that is right in front of his face, but the fool’s eyes are ever looking out to the edge and beyond, eyes rolling from one object to another. What is he searching for? Why is he restless? The proverb doesn’t answer. The sage is simply observing and contrasting, and making a judgment.
Is he speaking to the issue of discontent? Maybe. Here’s an admission I am not so proud of. My first senior pastorate was in a church that was not my dream church. Located in a rough area of town, the parishioners could be difficult and stubborn. I sought to be faithful to ministry, but my eyes often wandered. To use Eugene Peterson’s words, I was guilty of ecclesiastical pornography. I lusted over the airbrushed congregations posted on denominational sites. In my “roaming to the ends of the earth”, I sometimes missed what God had for me in the immediate. I became obsessed with the indefinite. There was wisdom to be gained and lessons to be learned from the people God graciously gave me to love. But in my desire for greener pastures, I often looked past the field God gave me to grow in. I failed to see that each side of the fence has its green, as well as its brown spots.
But it is deeper. The folly described in this proverb is not only restless–it has no settled principle, no certain rule, and no clear boundaries. A sort of ADHD is going on. One sees this in so much online dating today. In his article, “A Million First Dates,” Dan Slater describes how technology has created roamers who are never able to commit. They bypass the opportunities before them as they are ever looking out to the edges, chasing the elusive rabbit around the dating track. In the process, people become easily disposable.
The sage isn’t throwing a wet blanket on the fires of adventure. Jabez prayed that God would expand his boundaries (I Chron 4), and God answered his prayer. There is no wisdom in settling for confined lives. It’s okay to dream. But there is wisdom in discovering what He may have placed in front of you in this moment–a relationship, an unrecognized opportunity, and maybe even a painful circumstance. The perceptive have eyes trained to see what is before their faces, and a passion to learn everything God has for them to learn. The foolish live lives ever distracted and unfocused, looking everywhere without focusing on the one thing that is necessary. We have a word for them–flakes.