“Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour.” 1 Peter 5:8
How much manpower do you suppose it takes to keep the fires of hell raging hot? Peter was a fisherman, and fishermen are prone to exaggeration. He must have felt the heat of the ‘other’ side when issuing this warning.
He knew as we all do that every occasion is an opportunity to make a deal with the devil. And once made, there’s no easy way out. We bargain without thinking of the consequences. Our soul is mortgaged, sold into slavery, and to complain there’s no need. Even Joe B can’t forgive that debt. Besides, he’s made his own deal with the devil.
Where’s this going, you’re asking. I’m not sure myself, except today I came mighty close to making such a deal.
It’s like this, see. It’s Sunday, and if the adversary is active at all, he’s actively seeking absentee church backsliders and imbibers repenting from last night’s over-serving. Like Shakespeare said one morning after too much wine, “When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul lends the tongue vows.”
And oh, how many times has our own tongue made promises it never intended to keep? Remember, James said the tongue is a fire, and is set on fires of hell and cannot be tamed. One might infer from this that there’s a short distance between the tongue and hell itself. The devil is always close at hand.
But today I’m just a common backslider, avoiding church under an obvious excuse that needs no explanation: the dog has business to do. I have refrained from making absolute statements that can come back to haunt me later, statements that usually begin with “I promise…” With age there’s wisdom.
But here’s where the ground begins to shake. The island has flooded the last few days, so much rain that house foundations float and it feels like your home is moving into your neighbor’s back yard. It’s the kind of deluge that produces high water tables and green mold. Today it is not the mold that concerns me, but the sands. Quicksand, that is.
Things go nicely on the beach. The dog completes his task and I walk over some suspicious-looking sand to retrieve someone’s discarded beer can. And the unthinkable happens.
Before I know it, the sands open up, begins to devour me. I sink helplessly, down to my knees, no terra firma for my feet. Deeper and deeper, I sink. Quicksand.
If someone had asked me, “What were your first thoughts?” I might have quoted the devil. But being mired in quicksand is not the time for theological or philosophical discussions. I think I saw Lucifer squatting behind a dune, hoping to add another soul to his roster of fire tenders and singing, “Skin for skin, all a man has will he give for his life.”
We read about quicksand, special places where the water table is so close to the surface that the sands literally bubble. They swallow whatever crosses over it, mules, wagons, cars, humans. Even dinosaur remains have been discovered in the peat bogs of Florida.
But apparently today is not my time to stoke fires, inhabit a subterranean peat bog or to walk streets of gold. I get on my belly and crawl out of the mire, sandy but living to tell you about it. Left behind is a bubbling pool of silty water with an appetite, seeking something to devour for its meal.
In retrospect I suppose if I’d disappeared, sooner or later someone would have retraced my steps to the pool of water and the empty beer can. They’d scratch their head while examining the long claw marks in the sand, wonder about the beer can. Little else left there for clues.
In order to prevent mass cancellations, the resort would have suppressed the news as the ‘mysterious disappearance’ of a deranged old man who wandered off into the ocean, thinking he was at the top of the food chain and later realizing the error of such thoughts.
There’s no moral to this story, just a semi-allegory about being stuck in mires of our own making and bargains made against our better judgment.
We’d do well to think about the fires of hell before we trade with the devil. His invitation isn’t to a marshmallow roast.
September 12, 2022