Last week was packed with a good kind of craziness around our house. Our four-year-old grandson, Ezra was with us for a few days. Both Glenn and I were slated to travel and speak on the weekend, but we were still determined to take Ezra fishing, have lots of time pushing that swing outside, have at least three trips around the neighborhood on the tractor, visit the park, and squeeze in at least one pop-in with our postal lady and one with Ezra’s friends at the bank…not to mention the four services at the West Huntsville church while Ezra was in town. And all in between those activities, while at home, we were the good guys versus the bad guys in the living room. We have a hide-out under a tree that’s really on the couch under the afghan, a horse that’s actually wooden and rocking, but he transports to far-away and dangerous places just the same, and a jail in the study that’s not as secure as one might think, for four-year-old prisoners who know how to “file out” with plastic knives sneaked in by allies or “bust loose” through the back porch and hop on a pirate ship, which is a north-bound hammock that tosses wildly in the stormy sea.
A definite highlight this visit was a Captain Hook costume that I pieced together when Ezra’s imagination turned to Neverland. We re-purposed Glenn’s lawn mowing hat from the basement and, with a little red paint, a sword that my dad had made many years ago for my son, a feather from an Indian chief’s headdress in the costume crate, and a red robe from Amazon Prime, he was set. The little coat hanger hook glued inside a piece of wood in Glenn’s workshop was his favorite part of the ensemble. His little antique child’s bed in the window cubby in our bedroom was the perfect ship, with the baby sound machine on the ocean setting and a reflective nightlight putting the moon and stars on the ceiling. Captain Hook was up to no good and I was constantly spotting my costume jewelry around his neck, attached to his belt, or in that little treasure chest in his “ship”. (My jewelry stash may never be the same!)
But in one very serious moment (and those moments happen at unplanned times), this question emerged: “Mammy, do bad guys know dat dey are bad?”
Now I had to pause a moment before delving into any response to that very relevant societal question. Just a few seconds of reflection was all it took to realize that this question is a deep spiritual and philosophical quandary. Its ramifications are profound. Yet it needs to be settled in the mind of this four-year-old…and in my own.
The answer is, of course, “No…Not always.”
James 1: 20-22 reads like this. Find the bad guy here: Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
The implication is that the bad guy does not know how to leave the superfluity of naughtiness (also translated “overflowing of wickedness”) if he does not have the word engrafted or implanted in him. He simply must be in the Book to know that wickedness is wicked and that filthiness is filthy. A bad guy has to be in the Word (or have some connection to the broad influence of the Word of God) to know that he is bad. Sin is identified by the laws of God (Romans 5:13).
Some guys, though, have looked in the mirror of God’s Word and walked away, They are aware of the transformation that the Word would have them undergo. But they choose to walk away from the “mirror” without letting that Word change their hearts or their behaviors. In this case, the bad guys do “know that they are bad.” They have, like Pharaoh of old (Exodus 8:15,32), hardened their hearts.
Here’s the description by James of the “bad guy” who knows he is bad from verses 23 and 24:
For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
The Greek word for “forgetteth” there includes neglect. This man knows, at least on some level, what God would have him to do, but he does not care. He refuses to allow God’s word to convict and change him. This “bad guy” knows he is bad.
This conversation with Ezra ended with an elicited resolve to never, ever be the real-life bad guy; the one who knows he is wicked, but doesn’t care. But further, it ended with a resolve on both of our parts to always be looking in the mirror of the Word, so that we can know when we are bad and mend our ways. Wickedness, whether the wicked is aware of it or not, separates a man from God (Is. 59:2).
Hook. Where did the “pretend” end and the eternal realities begin? When did the pirate ship become a vessel of spiritual transport? When did his little mind stop fighting with the wooden sword and launch a pint-sized battle with the sword which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17)? You never know when the teachable moments will come, so be sure you are on-board in little adventures every chance you get. Those moments may contain keys to eternity.