This morning I found a hedge apple at the park. My daughter and I were walking there, as we do every day, and I noticed that a bunch of them had fallen overnight near the path. For her it was a miraculous discovery—a ready made, brightly colored ball to hold in the stroller for the next mile.
A few minutes later, we passed a small group of retired men who also walk the path every day. One of them saw the hedge apple and said, “Oh! Did you know that people roll these under their houses? It keeps the bugs away.”
“Really?” I said.
“Oh, yes,” he said.
So naturally, I put four of them in the bottom of my stroller right away. When we got home, I bowled them into the crawlspace under our house. A few minutes later, it occurred to me: Shouldn’t I have at least googled that?
This was obviously an example of harmless gullibility. That man could have been playing a joke on me, and if he was, it worked, but the cost of the joke at the end of the day was basically nothing.
Still, many of us are susceptible to a more dangerous kind of gullibility, with its willingness to throw one’s life and family on board any bandwagon that sounds convincing, its stubborn allegiance to a questionable cause, and its inability to hear reason even from those close enough to advise.
Here are some examples, taken from real life:
- A middle aged woman has an affinity for TV preachers… they are so dynamic! She sometimes buys their books too, or makes little donations. She was recently dismayed to hear that her latest favorite is being sued by his organization—for embezzlement. She wonders exactly where her money went.
- A mom who is absolutely glowing with Christian virtue has the largest collection of diet books I’ve ever seen, dating back into the 70’s. Every time she buys a new one (her husband complains ruefully) she goes out and buys the paraphernalia required and renovates her entire life to line up with the new book. This lasts only until the next book comes out.
- A woman who is in ministry with her husband feels convinced that she would like to hear more from Jesus than his words to her in scripture. She decides to sit down and see if he will speak to her in words that can be written down. This turns into a book empire that sells over 15 million copies, with women all over the world spending devotional time with the Jesus of this woman’s series. Many conservative Christian writers point out the troubling fact that this woman’s Jesus sounds suspiciously like a twenty-first century, Western, middle-aged woman.
- A new wife gets a message from her in-laws on Facebook, telling her they are ‘praying for her, that she would be convicted and see the truth’. The truth they are praying for her to see? God’s plan for her: essential oils.
This is more than a harmless tendency to pick up hedge apples anytime somebody tells you its a good idea. It’s the tendency to get your truths—capital-T truth and the lowercase kind—in mixed up order. This makes you vulnerable to absurdity, to imbalances of emphasis, and to “philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition,” such as Paul warns the Colossian church about (Col. 2:8).
The other ditch
There is, of course, another ditch in this question. If naivety and gullibility lie on one side of wisdom, then a world-weary cynicism lies on the other.
We all also know women who pride themselves on never being ‘taken in’. These women respond with a laugh of derision whenever someone approaches them with enthusiasm about an idea. They are so wary of all the nonsense in the world that they carry around suspicion as a defense mechanism. They never look foolish, but they never look excited either.
The road of wisdom and childlike wonder
Surely something about serpents and doves has already been swimming around in your memory while reading this. You’re thinking of Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew: “Behold, I am sending you out as a sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).
Jesus, remember, was the one who wanted us to have faith like children (Matt. 18:3). But here he admonishes his followers to remember the wolves, and to emulate—shockingly—serpents. Then, somehow, we are to balance this brand of cunning with the innocence of doves.
This is all well and good, but how are we to do it? How are we to set our minds so that the big-T truths don’t ever get dethroned by the little-t truths of health, education, politics, minor theological points, and family practices?
Here’s the thing: it’s hard.
Because we have all of these practical things in life that we’re up to our elbows in, every day. We may resolve to hold our beliefs lightly when it comes to the “things indifferent” that are not central to our faith in Jesus Christ and love for his word. But we still have to do something—every day, we have to decide what to buy, what to cook, whom to vote for, how to dress, whom to date, what to watch, where to send our children to school, and where to give birth to our babies.
Women’s lives are one long physicality, practical in nature. This means that when we get on board with something, it’s often because we tried it, loved it, it worked for us—and now we’re driven to share it with anyone who we think will also benefit from it.
My husband was laughing at me a few days ago because of long text conversations I was having with a similarly pregnant friend. The friend was using painstaking finger tapping to send me detailed information about a birthing aid she’d come across.
“Why do you guys do this?” he said. “Why are you always telling each other about stuff like this?”
“Because all women are evangelists,” I laughed. “When something works for us, we feel that it would be basically irresponsible not to share.”
So while I can’t tell you to just shut that down and stop listening to your friends or talking to them about life’s practicalities—and while it would be foolish to shut your eyes and ears to every fresh idea—it is our responsibility to look at our filters and set them carefully.
Thankfully, we have scripture as our guide. Paul wrote about just this sort of thing to the Ephesian church—also prone to the dangerous kind of gullibility:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Eph. 4:11-14, emphasis added).
In the same letter to the Colossians referenced earlier, Paul gets very specific about the kinds of things that these believers were being tempted to blow out of proportion. They were the same things that we’ve been discussing here—the tasting, touching, handling kinds of questions. And here, Paul associates a certain kind of asceticism with the world, saying that it has “an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:23).
So how can we sift through the opinions we come across in a way that is honoring to God and gracious to others, while remaining severe on our own sin and alive to the delights of God’s good gifts?
Only true warrior women can do this (Eph. 6). Only those whose minds are steeped in scripture and whose hearts are full of the Holy Spirit can do this. One must be in love with Christ himself in order to not be tempted by ideas and affections that just don’t make sense in his world.
And of course, we’re human still. I fully expect that despite our best intentions, we’re going to pick up a few hedge apples along the way.