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The Rock and the Hard Place

If we posit that God’s Word is a faith for all of life, and the attendant faith involves application, then each situation we face may have difficult alternatives, but there will be a righteous one to choose.

Andrea G. Schwartz
  • Andrea G. Schwartz,
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Many idiomatic expressions decorate the landscape of our speech. Finding oneself “between a rock and a hard place” is among them. The common understanding involves  a situation where one is faced with two equally difficult alternatives. However, the expression does not do justice to reality. If we posit that God’s Word is a faith for all of life, and the attendant faith involves application, then each situation we face may have difficult alternatives, but there will be a righteous one to choose.

As our culture has drifted away even from the superficial Christianity of the past seventy years, we have lost a societal compass that had a basis in Biblical truth, although a remnant of one. Jesus’ words have meaning that are largely lost today when He stated:

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matt. 7:13–14)

Today the narrow road is identified as the narrow-minded road, as we (in order to stay politically correct) have to express toleration and a pluralistic mindset regarding issues that the Bible clearly delineates as wrong. Moreover, appeals, such as “hate the sin, but love the sinner,” reveal a humanistic rather than a Biblical worldview. A truly Biblical worldview would state, “Love the sinner enough to demonstrate it by preaching the law and the gospel to him.” Instead, even sincere believers soft-pedal the truth of Scripture to make it palatable to those at war with God. However, those who war with us are not defeated by appeasement; they are won by the faithful exposition and application of God’s Word according to the working of the Holy Spirit

This battle first must be waged in our own head and spirit. As the culture has made a seismic shift away from Biblical foundations, much ground has been taken in the minds and hearts of professing believers. R.J. Rushdoony made the observation that:

Modern humanism, the religion of the state, locates law in the state and thus makes the state, or the people as they find expression in the state, the god of the system … In Western culture, law has steadily moved away from God to the people (or the state) as its source, although the historic power and vitality of the West has been in Biblical faith and law.[1]

Too few examine Biblical solutions to urges, impulses, and choices when faced with decisions, and seek the broad way rather than the narrow path outlined in Scripture.

I submit that every situation a Christian faces can ultimately be addressed by Jesus’ words regarding the two roads spoken of in Matthew 7:13–14 above. Rushdoony notes of this passage:

Our Lord thus makes use of a very familiar idea, one well known to all His hearers. He was not thereby confirming a Greek wisdom, nor merely passing on a Hebrew aphorism. Our Lord’s use of the two ways is determined, not by past usages, but by the context of His use…
First, our Lord speaks of the two ways immediately after declaring the Golden Rule: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12). It is therefore essentially related to the Golden Rule. We can say, briefly, that the broad way for many is, do in others, before they do you in; knife them, before they knife you. The world sees conflict as basic, because it sees chaos as basic to the universe. Such men justify their amoral policies on the ground that such is the nature of reality; they see it as a dog-eat-dog universe, not as God’s creation and moral order. The broad way is thus a denial of the Golden Rule, and the pursuit of a contrary way. Lip service may be paid to the Golden Rule by the pilgrims of the broad way, but their lives are a constant denial of it.
Second, the broad way is commonly seen as the way of toleration and freedom. To follow Christ and Scripture strictly and faithfully is held to be the rigid and narrow way. The premise is that too strong a commitment to anything other than oneself is unwise: keep your options open, and your mind “free.” The broad way is thus presented as the source of intelligence and rationality, and narrowness is decried. The straitness of the gate, and the narrowness of the way, that leads to life is in terms of no personal options: the way is ordered by the Lord, not by our tastes. We cannot pick and choose what to believe, as if at a smorgasbord: the Bible is a command book from God the Lord.[2]

Returning to the idiom of being “between a rock and a hard place,” it behooves us to realize that since Jesus tells us that the road is narrow that leads to life, we will often be in the midst of “tight” situations. If we are not standing on the Rock, the hard road we must travel will be one of compromise and disloyalty. Instead of making our personal comfort, social status, or occupational security of uppermost importance, we must realize that, however important these things may be, they do not and must not assume a priority higher than the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

The tests in life often happen right in the context of family life. If we fail there, the opportunities to make an impact on the surrounding culture will be few and far between. In addition, these tests sometimes come in the form of apostate spouses or adult children. It is here where our loyalty is tested: Do we love anyone or anything more than we love Christ? In truth, the tests are more for our benefit than God’s as He already knows the end from the beginning. His mandate to us to remain on the straight way has tremendous implications.

Our Lord says of the strait way, “Few there be that find it.” As Whedon noted, “They do not look for it. They see the crowd rushing through the broad gate; they desire nothing better than so liberal a route, and they would not press through the narrow way before their eyes.”
“Narrow is the way” means, literally, pressed, or hemmed in between walls or rocks, as in a mountain gorge.[3]

Therefore, if we are in the midst of a hemmed-in situation, we know that there is a narrow way that leads to life. Understand that the life described here is eternal life, which surpasses the comforts of this life. Thus, we should get used to living—not between a rock and a hard place—but on the Rock as we face being hemmed in by the hard place. Knowing that His Word and His Spirit are promised gifts to help us in the passage should spur us on to faithfulness.

But the very society surrounding us promises advantages if we take the broad way. This is not just restricted to the world of so-called atheists and agnostics. This broad way is all too often advocated within the institutional church where sin is winked at and tolerance promoted.

[T]he broad way is the way of parasites. Our Lord is not making an obvious statement. He is not saying that murderers and moral degenerates go to hell. Rather, He is talking about false righteousness, hypocrisy, and Phariseeism. In the Sermon on the Mount, He contrasts the (false) “righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees” (Matt. 5:20) with true righteousness. The contrast therefore between the many who go to hell as against the few who take the way of life is contemporary, applying to His day, not to the end results of history. In brief, the broad way refers to the ostensibly good people who are actual roadblocks and enemies to Christ’s people and realm.[4]

Those wolves in sheep’s clothing convince their listeners that some areas of life and thought do not need to be consulted with the Word of God. Because these false guides are in league with the humanistic state and its indoctrination centers (state schools) they promote a tolerance of most behaviors so long as they maintain their audience. When there is no call to holiness as defined in Scripture, what is left is instruction on how to succeed in the broad way: the course of non-commitment.

But such a course of non-commitment, the broad way, is the way of death. The strait way “leadeth unto life.” “Leadeth,” apago, apagousa, means literally leads away, i.e., leads away unto life. It leads away from the broad way and from destruction. The strait gate is at the beginning of this road of life. We do not enter into life in heaven, but here and now, as we give ourselves without reservations to the Lord. The test of that commitment our Lord then sets forth: “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt.7:20).[5]


[1] R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. 1 (Phillipsburg, NJ: The Craig Press: 1972), p. 5.

[2] R. J. Rushdoony, Sermon on the Mount (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2009), pp. 110–111.

[3] ibid., p. 111.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid., p. 112.