July 27, 1999
Dag Hammarskjold, diplomat and former Secretary General of the UN once said, “You cannot play with the animal in you without becoming wholly animal, play with falsehood without forfeiting your right to truth, play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind. He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn’t reserve a plot for weeds.”
A modern Chinese proverb says the same thing using another analogy: “Forbidden fruit creates many jams.”
In a world of continual change, a few things stand firm. One is the truth that folly will impact our lives — just as untended weeds will ruin our rose garden.
Folly can seem harmless at first. An army officer was out hunting with his friends. While pausing for a rest, he thought he would create some excitement so touched a match to some dry grass. Within minutes the entire area was ablaze, and the men were powerless to stop it. Flames, fanned and driven by a strong wind, raged rapidly across the prairie burning thousands of acres of land, homes, buildings and countless head of livestock. But it seemed so harmless.
Folly can seem to be a quick fix for a problem, such as cheating on exams. Students who do it either fear failure or simply want a shortcut to success. They may get away with this folly for their term finals but in the trials of life, the lessons they borrowed without learning for themselves will be repeated. One way or another, life has a way of showing cheaters that dishonest shortcuts produce painful regrets.
Another folly is called “casual love” or what started out in the 60's as “free” sex. In those days, it seemed harmless and without consequence but today, in the United States in one day, over 25,000 people contract a sexually transmitted disease, or about 10 million a year. One state (Illinois) spends over 800 million dollars dealing with the effects of illicit sex. The entire nation spends billions. So much for “free” sex.
If that is not enough jam from that forbidden fruit, one statistician says that more babies are born in one year in the 90's with birth defects because of sexually transmitted disease than all the babies affected by polio during the epidemic of the 50's.
Another related folly is adultery. Marriages, families and the tender hearts of children are torn apart because someone gave in to their hunger. That folly may keep lawyers employed, but no one can claim these are positive results. Our nation’s strong family norm slowly deteriorates, replaced by one-parent homes struggling to survive.
These jams are not the lot of common people either. Royalty can fall into folly too. One evening, when King David of Israel should have been in the fields with his army, he instead gazed out over his city and saw on a nearby rooftop, a beautiful woman enjoying her evening bath. His desire led to adultery then later to murder, as he arranged for the woman’s husband to be killed in battle. From his position of power, he thought no one would know or find out — but he forgot about God.
God revealed David’s plot to a prophet named Nathan. Nathan confronted the king, and just as the Bible says, his sin “found him out.” As another prophet said, “Woe to the wicked. Disaster is upon them. They will be paid back for what their hands have done.”
No forbidden fruit is exempt from disastrous consequences. Hammarskjold stands with Scripture. Both oppose the foolish idea that we can sow wild oats without harvesting an unwanted crop. As the Chinese affirm, no one can taste, eat or even steal forbidden fruit without getting themselves in a sticky and unpalatable jam.