The contrast between the righteous and wicked continues in Proverbs 29. “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.” (Prov 29:2) “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” (Prov 29:7) “When the wicked thrive, so does sin, but the righteous will see their downfall.” (Prov 29:16) “Good people can’t stand the sight of deliberate evil; the wicked can’t stand the sight of well-chosen goodness.” (Prov 29:27) All of these verses remind us, starkly, unequivocally, that we can’t afford to sit on the fence when it comes to spiritual things. Jesus, the Light of the World (John 9:5), called us the light of the world (Matt 5:14). We have a responsibility to live as Christ lived, to be His ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20), to shine in the darkness (Phil 2:15).

We live in an age which does not believe in absolutes. Relativism is everything. Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration. It has seeped into every aspect of our society and if you contradict it, you are labelled a bigot (‘person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one exhibiting intolerance, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs.’) The Bible is adamant, however, that there is such a thing as absolute truth and that God is truth. Moreover, Jesus said that the truth will set us free (John 8:32).

Because we swim against the tide when we hold to absolute truths, we need constantly to be reminded of them. Swimming against the tide is hard work. Proverbs does not give us long rhetoric, complicated arguments or difficult-to-understand sentences. It gives us short, sharp aphorisms which startle us by their starkness and laconic style. One which has helped me more often than most comes towards the end of this chapter: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.” (Prov 29:25) The Message version translates this verse “The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.” If you’re a people-pleaser like me, this verse anchors you to truth and helps you to stand when others disagree. Bigotry, incidentally, is not what we are called to. We do not have to exhibit intolerance or animosity to those of differing beliefs. We are called to love. But that does not mean we bow down to the prevailing views and attitudes around us when these are in conflict with what God says. Like Daniel, like Nehemiah, like Esther, like Obadiah, we stand firm and trust God rather than man. Like David, we can say, “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Ps 118:6)