Summary: The biggest enemy we have in the church is not the Bible...It is fumbling, insensitive extremists who wave judgmental fingers and presume themselves to be the conscious of God for the world.
Between a rock and a hard place
Meaning: To be forced to make a decision between two undesired options or as an another source puts it, “stuck between two opposing forces” (www.goenglish.com)
Gary Martin, author of Meanings and Origins provides us with the US origin of the phrase. He traced the earliest known printed reference to 1921. At the time it spoke of ‘recent panics’ in Arizona." The ’recent panics’ referred to in that citation was the Bisbee deportations of 1917. Martin explains. “In Bisbee, Arizona, in the early years of the 20th century, a dispute between copper mining companies and mineworkers developed. In 1917, the workers, some of whom had organized in labour unions, approached the company management with a list of demands for better pay and conditions. These were refused and subsequently many workers at the Bisbee mines were forcibly deported to New Mexico.” Martin continues, “It’s tempting to surmise, given that the mineworkers were faced with a choice between harsh, underpaid work at the rock-face on the one hand and unemployment and poverty on the other, that this is the source of the phrase.”
In today’s text, St. Paul tells his story of being between a rock and a hard place or being stuck between two opposing forces (vs. 7-8).
His story is our story. The two undesired options are clear – i) remain ignorant (uninformed) of the law of God (Ten Commandments referenced here) or, ii) hear the law of God and as a result be faced with the fact that we are sinful by nature and experience the weight of our sin.
We need to define sin. Strong’s Concordance says it comes from the Greek New Testament word hamartano (ham-ar-tan’-o). It means the same as the Hebrew word Chattah and has the connotation, “To miss the mark and so lose the prize.” When God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden and they ate, they missed the mark and so lost the prize (fellowship with God). When we know God lays before us an expectation, an instruction, a command and we reject it, ignore or abuse it, we miss the mark (sin) and so forfeit the prize of communion with God – this of course was our continuing condition apart from the finished work of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary.
So, whether uninformed of God’s law or aware of it and confronting the news of our sinful natures, it puts us desperately far from God. If we choose to remain uninformed about the law concerning sin then we are free to live without a conscious. Do whatever you want, be your own person and have no sense of guilt or remorse for those choices but live with the eternal consequences of those choices. Paul illustrates in verse 7b… (To covet is to want something that belongs to someone else with no consideration for the impact it will have on another person).
Was Paul suggesting that if the law didn’t exist so that I didn’t know coveting was wrong, that it would not be wrong for me? Believing that is to declare, “Ignorance is bliss” (what I don’t know is not my fault). Unfortunately it does not deal with the matter of sin which in Paul’s example, is coveting. Coveting is sin whether we’re aware of it or not. Ignorance is not bliss; it is a recipe for spiritual death. I remember driving through a school zone once when I noticed the red and blue flashing in my mirror. The officer pulled me over and inquired about my speed. I was ignorant to how fast I was driving. I couldn’t tell him if I was driving 50kms/hr or 70kms/hr. I could have argued, “Well officer, I didn’t know I was driving 75km in a 50km zone.
“Yes, I see your point there Mr. Pilgrim. Since you didn’t know any better, I won’t give you a ticket. Have a nice day.”
My speeding fine was $120. He gave me a higher fine to avoid point deductions. My ignorance did not factor in the equation of the right and wrong of that situation.
In telling his story, Paul goes on to outline the paradox. At first glance we might think Paul is blaming the law for the paradox. In other words the law seems to create what it wanted to destroy (vs. 10). It is this apparent conflict that leads many people to reject the Bible – “it’s got too many rules; you can’t do this and you can’t do that.” We consider the instruction of the Bible as stifling and a kill-joy, and it “takes the fun out of everything.” As a result of our attitudes, we reject the authority of God and often choose to ignore his instructions which he designed for our good and benefit.