For how long must you leave a beautiful garden abandoned before it reverts to jungle? One summer will show the deterioration well under way and within five years it will be hard to discern that any manicured garden was ever tended there.
For how long must you leave a bustling city abandoned before it becomes overgrown ruins? The Scientific American calculated that within four hundred years the buildings and bridges will fall, the tunnels and subways will collapse and from the air it will be virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding jungle.
Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that we need to be waging a constant battle in order to maintain standards. Consider these two Biblical discussions regarding the soldier.
In one place we read a sad account of a soldier, after the battle is over, desiring a woman from the enemy camp. And God says, “Well, I kind of understand you want her, so here’s how you should proceed”.
When you go forth in war against your enemies, and the Lord your God has delivered them into your hands, and you have taken them captive, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her, that you would have her as your wife; then you shall bring her home to your house….
We also read a second account describing the elevated and lofty principles demanded from the soldier.
When you go out to make war against your enemies, then keep yourself from every wicked thing. If there is among you any man, who is not clean…then shall he go out of the camp…You shall have a place also outside the camp, where you shall go out to it [to relieve yourself] And you shall have a spade among your weapons; and it shall be, when you will relieve yourself outside, you shall dig with it, and shall turn back and cover your excrement; for the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to save you, and to give your enemies before you; therefore shall your camp be holy; that he should see no unclean thing in you, and turn away from you.
This focus on hygiene sends a message that even being in the midst of battle doesn’t grant permission to behave in an animal-like fashion for even the most physical of activities.
How can God demand that men remember that they are not animals even while at war but then accept, after the battle is over, they won’t be able to ignore the pull of a beautiful captive?
While the battle is still raging, maintaining a high level of conduct is part of that struggle. When the battle is over and one ceases the fight, demoralization sets in. In other words, there is a metaphorical level to this discussion. Not only are we being taught about actual, real-life military combat, but we are also learning how we human beings work. As long as we expend effort and demand ever more of ourselves, we thrive. When we quit the fight and tell ourselves that it is time to relax, we often find ourselves in moral peril.
Military leaders know that their troops are most vulnerable to a decline in morale once the battle or the rigorous training is over. Many of us have experienced behaving in a way on vacation that we would not condone while in the middle of our regular lives where we fight for family and livelihood on a daily basis.
The idea is best captured by King Solomon when he wrote:
To the wise the way of life leads upward, that he may depart from doom below.
In other words, the wise always keeps climbing upwards. That is the only way to avoid the alternative, which is decline and deterioration.
Whether we have a garden, a city, a family or a business project, we are either improving it or it is deteriorating. If we stop gardening, the garden doesn’t retain its splendor. Instead it begins its decline toward jungle the very moment we cease the struggle. That is how the world REALLY works.