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  • Eric Kampmann

A Perverse Impulse

Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach

on the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong;

he will take up their case against you.

—Proverbs 23:10–11

Even though we hear the warning, we often feel strangely compelled to ignore the danger in defiance of the obvious consequence. When we hear someone say, “Don’t touch the hot plate!” we touch the plate anyway.

Why does a warning cause us to want to defy the rules? Why do we irrationally embrace risk when we know better? Edgar Allen Poe called this darker impulse “the imp of the perverse.” Dostoyevsky says that we have within our makeup an “underground man” who acts as a double, nudging us away from the good life to ruin and despair. The Bible calls this subterranean prompt sin, which is a desire to do the wrong thing when we know it is wrong.

The ancient boundary stone is the signpost that keeps us from wandering far afield. Jesus invites us to follow him on his path, but we often demur and set off on what appears to be a far easier way.

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