In an Error State

Read: Proverbs 26:11

Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly (Proverbs 26:11, NRSV).

At least a couple of times per week my computer informs me that my printer is “in an error state.” I always receive this message with a sigh since my study is upstairs and the printer is down.

It makes me wonder whether God gets regular messages like this about me. “Carol is in an error state.” Then I imagine God sighing and saying, “Again?! I guess I’d better go down there and see what the problem is.”

It isn’t always obvious to us when we are in an “error state.” Still, even if we received the message, it’s unlikely that we would heed it. As today’s featured proverb observes, we foolish humans have a habit of returning to the same folly over and over again.

The proverbs are good at making memorable comparisons, and this one may win the prize in the “disgusting but accurate” category. Having said this, I’m sure someone will let me know that it is perfectly natural for dogs to eat their own vomit. Before you hit “send,” however, let me assure you that I am aware of this, having done some research in the process of writing this reflection. Dogs do indeed have more olfactory receptors than humans do, all of which tell them that there is still good food to be had such situations. While this does vindicate the dog, it does not vitiate the proverb. The proverb, after all, is designed for a human audience. If it were targeted toward a canine audience it might read, “As a human wastes perfectly good vomit is a fool who wastes the lessons of wisdom.”

I digress—although I wonder if there might be a market for re-writing the book of Proverbs for dogs. Alas, that is a challenge that will have to wait for another day. For today, let’s focus on why we are so quick to be disgusted by our dog’s behavior, but so slow to be disgusted by our own.

In short: why do we so often repeat the same sins—sometimes just after we have confessed them and promised to turn over a new leaf? I suspect this was what C.S. Lewis was getting at when he referred to his “harem of fondled hatreds.”* Or John Donne, who puns on his last name in this telling prayer:

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun

            A year or two, but wallow’d in, a score?

                        When thou hast done, thou hast not done,

                                    For I have more.**

Like dogs, we are incorrigible. Or, to return to the less disgusting analogy with which we began, our capacity to be in an “error state” is infinite. Fortunately for us, so is God’s grace.

So, the next time you find yourself—yet again—in an error state, imagine God sighing patiently and saying, “I guess I’d better go down and see what the problem is.”

Ponder: What rings true about this proverb for you?

Pray: Thank you for your patience and your grace, O God. Help us to recognize our folly and make wiser choices.

*In Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (originally published in the UK by Geoffrey Bles, 1955)

**Here is a link to the whole poem, “A Hymn to God the Father” by John Donne.