“The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” Proverbs 22:3
“The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!'” Proverbs 22:13
Critics of Christianity often argue their case by saying, “The Bible is full of contradictions.” When I hear someone say this, the response that I have in my mind is a short one. “Please don’t make stupid arguments. If we’re going to discuss the Bible, let’s use our brains.”
My long-form response is more gracious and goes something like this: “Does it have contradictions within it? Yes, to a degree. Is it ‘full’ of contradictions? Absolutely not, especially considering what the Bible really is. It is not one book, written by one human author, within a short frame of time. When you take into account that it is a collection of 66 (or more) different documents of various literary forms, written by about 40 different people over the course of 2,000+ years, it’s pretty amazing that it is as unified in message as it is. It is a truly ancient and complex document.” Here’s where the “let’s use our brains” part really kicks in… “There absolutely are places where contradictions are apparent. However, if you look past the surface-level contradiction and dig for the meaning behind the words, the apparent contradiction usually resolves itself.”
Proverbs 22:3 and 22:13 is an example of such a passage, and pushing past the contradiction provides a powerful lesson for the entrepreneurs among us.
In v3, the author of Proverbs (often called the Teacher) lifts up the prudent as an example to be followed; he/she sees danger down the path and is smart enough to get out of the way. The simple, however, ignores risk and pays for it in the end.
As you read along through the chapter, you may come to v13 and wonder if the Teacher has already forgotten what he said just ten verses prior. In this verse, he seems to be criticizing a concern for safety, decrying the person who stays inside in order to avoid the danger that may lurk on the other side of his front door.
Cue the critic shouting from the rooftop… “Contradiction!!!”
The Bible is complex and often confusing. People are also complex and even more confusing. As I step away from the scripture and look to my personal experience, the “contradiction” in these verses looks very familiar when compared to my life as a business owner and a disciple of Jesus.
Starting a business requires some strange combination of boldness, naivete, starry-eyed optimism and relentless determination. Most entrepreneurs start out like the polar opposite of the sluggard in v13. They burst out of their front door with zeal, ready to take on the world! Lion in the street? Either the lion doesn’t really exist or the zealous entrepreneur is convinced he/she will demolish said lion with no effort at all.
Congratulations! The Teacher is happy with you in v13! You’re not a sluggard.
At some point during the journey (usually in the first year of business, or as soon as the entrepreneur realizes that money is more prone to leaving than arriving), the zealot begins to grow what Dave Ramsey calls a “risk meter.” Usually this sensitivity to risk develops after several encounters that provide a valuable educational lesson: risk gone wrong leads to pain. The zealot slowly begins to become more prudent, like the person described in v3. The prudent entrepreneur has learned to look further down the road and see what really is coming. She no longer budgets for a month only, but for a year at a time (or more). He knows which seasons are his lean ones and he prepares for survival. She has a contingency plan in the case of an employee leaving, the machinery failing or the market tanking. The prudent entrepreneur knows that crap happens and plans in accordance.
So… does the Teacher want the entrepreneur and business owner to be the zealot in v13 or the prudent in v3? The answer is: both. The successful entrepreneur has to be willing to take calculated risks while having a realistic view of the dangers that lurk outside the comfort zone. Nothing is gained if nothing is wagered.
There is tension between v3 and v13, but not a contradiction. There’s a beautiful dance that the entrepreneur does between taking the risks necessary to grow and maintaining the safety and stability of the company. Take too many risks or grow too fast and the company could end up in a dangerous position and fail. Play it too safe and the company stops growing, becomes stagnant, and eventually dies. Somewhere in the middle is where healthy, growing companies thrive.
It takes a lot of guts to dance between safety and risk. Most people can’t handle the tension between the two. That’s why the ones who can do it are the ones who start businesses and organizations that make a difference. It’s also why they eventually reap the benefits of being an owner. To be successful, they live in the tension of this dance every hour of every day for extended periods of time. It does not go away when they leave the office.
Note: If you want the illusion of security and safety, don’t aspire to be an entrepreneur and business owner. Work for someone else. Just keep in mind that there’s no true security there, either… you’re simply trusting the management of the company to someone else. If they mismanage, you don’t have a job.
You can’t approach Scripture expecting easy answers. You can’t approach business expecting them, either. Whether you’re studying the Bible or business, engage your mind, ask good questions and be willing to dance with a lion. That’s what it takes to win.