In the past, when an automobile driver was pulled over by a police officer on suspicion of driving while drunk, one of the tests of sobriety was to see if the driver could walk in a straight line. Today, I suspect that breathalyzer tests are more common. This newer technology is probably also more accurate, since there are days that, due to my lack of coordination, I can’t easily walk in a straight line, anyway.
Still, compared to winding trails, rocky slopes, or mountainous terrain, walking in a straight line on a path is relatively simple to do. Walking down a neatly-manicured path at the park is easier than weaving through a winding path in the forest. Skiing (or falling) straight downhill is easier than the slalom in the Olympics. It seems that – when it comes to following a path – a straight line is easier to follow than a circuitous one, all else being equal.
So, why is the path of righteousness (i.e., doing the right thing) described as the straight path?
Mark out a straight path for your feet;
stay on the safe path.
Proverbs 4:26 NLT
Similarly, if the “straight road” is better for us, and probably much easier to follow, why don’t we naturally follow it? That is, why is the straight path difficult to stay on?
Proverbs 21:8 might give us a clue:
The guilty walk a crooked path;
the innocent travel a straight road.
Proverbs 21:8 NLT
If a burglar is running away, having just been caught in the act of taking something that doesn’t belong to him, he’s probably not going to follow the highway, where the local authorities can drive right up and arrest him. He’s more likely to dodge and weave through the forest, trying to hide from those who will hold him accountable for his actions.
In the same way, when we aren’t following the simple path of doing the right thing (since there are often many fewer righteous choices than rebellious choices), we may want to hide or cover our tracks. If we tell a lie, sustaining and maintaining that lie takes us in all different directions to try and keep up a false story. We may have to take the long way around to avoid an offended friend’s desk, or to keep from being seen in certain circles. When we consider what it takes to do our own thing, maintaining our vices while still trying to exist in the company of others, it’s a lot of work, and we may feel like we are running all over the place just to keep up.
And, there may be other reasons. For instance, we could have a “wobbly wheel”. I was walking with a resident of an assisted-living facility one morning, and he pointed out that his walker had a wheel that wasn’t aligned properly. This made it more difficult for him to navigate down the sidewalk. Similarly, an automobile driver whose steering wheel or tires are out of alignment will find the vehicle pulling to one side or another. In the same way, systematic challenges in our lives – whether bad habits, negative relationships, or just our persistent sinful nature – can continue to pull us off-track. Each of these can be addressed (although it’s not easy – I can attest to that), but it usually takes a combination of our wills, the Holy Spirit, some specific actions on our part, and sometimes help from trusted friends.
Or, like little kids who get distracted by things off of the path (including where poison ivy is growing), do we just like to wander? Does the grass seem greener away from the path, where other definitions of “fun”, “success”, or “popularity” are portrayed as the way that everyone should aspire to live? Living in God’s plan can deliver all of these goals in a healthy, positive way; however, if we seek to achieve them for their own sake (without staying on His path), they will never be as rewarding, fulfilling, or enjoyable.
Whatever our reason, there is really no good reason for straying from God’s path. I can’t make you believe that, but I can testify to blessings that I have found in my own life when I remained on (or returned to) that path, and I can point you to countless others who have experienced the same thing. If it is our goal to remain on that straight path, let us each take an inventory of why we stray, and identify what needs a little tune-up in our lives. I don’t have it all figured out, but with the ongoing support of the Holy Spirit and other Christians, I hope to not stray too far.