Posts tagged adultery
1 John is an interesting read. So much of it is devoted, seemingly, to identifying who is truly a follower of God and who isn’t. It very much seems like some kind of litmus test for Christians. But if so, it is a confusing one.
In one sentence, John says that once you have become a child of God, you no longer sin. In another, he says that we all sin and need to ask forgiveness. So what’s going on here?
Well, I think we can find a clue when we look at the audience of John’s letter. John is writing, according to his own words, to believers who have already accepted the teaching about Jesus. These are people who would have been well aware that simply accepting Jesus does not make a person perfect. However, John is trying to encourage and challenge these believers by saying, in a sense, “Once you’ve been washed clean, you would never jump back into the filth, right?”
His words show how foolish and stubborn we all are – those of us who know the truth and have glimpsed the reality of God and yet continue to sin. Our actions are like a cheating spouse who, though his wife knows of his indiscretions and has forgiven him, continues to pile misery on misery, affair on top of affair. Now, you could certainly the sanity of the wife, continuing to forgive her husband, but the greater flaw is in the husband.
Likewise, if God had peers, they would probably call him a fool for continuing to stick with us – for persevering in his grace and forgiveness for us. But is is we who have the greater flaw. If we really loved him as we say we do, wouldn’t we just stop the cheating?
Talk about an object lessons! Through the prophet Hosea, God revisits the metaphor of Israel as an adulterous and promiscuous wife – a prostitute. But if that image was shocking when Ezekiel spoke of it, imagine how shocking it must have been when Hosea lived it.
In what is one of the more bizarre stories of the Bible, God asks Hosea to intentionally marry a woman he knows will cheat on him. Then, after that woman has lived up to her billing, God asks Hosea to take her back. Not only that, but Hosea pays to take her back – to reclaim her from her life of prostitution.
I can just hear the people closest to Hosea – his friends, family and neighbors – trying to talk some sense into him. “Why would you take that woman back at all, let alone pay a price for her? What has she done to deserve your love? You have every right to not only turn your back on her, but to make her life miserable.”
But that was the point, wasn’t it? Object lessons come alive when they turn into life lessons – especially when those lives belong to your close friends or family. How must it have felt for Hosea’s friends when they realized that the life he was living was a mirror of their lives as the people of God.
They had a loving God – one who chose them even though he knew they would let him down, stray from him and sell themselves to foreign Gods. And after they had done all that (over and over and over again), he still loved them. He still wanted to take them back. And, in a bit of forsehadowing, God even showed that he would be willing to pay a price to rescue them from their life of sin.
When I think about Hosea, I think about a guy who sacrificed a whole lot in order for God to prove a point. But the point itself was that God was willing to make the same kind of sacrifice – and more – in order to rescue his people.
Compared to Isaiah, Jeremiah has such a different and unique tone. In the prophecy of Jeremiah, God is a betrayed lover, but rather than anger, the prevailing emotion is love. Reading these words, you might even begin to feel sorry for God. Here, after all, is someone who is madly in love, but whose lover really pays no attention to him. Not only that, but they run around with anyone and everyone they can find to indulge their pleasure. If a friend was in that situation, most of us would say, “Just leave. Give it up.” But God can’t give it up. His love goes far beyond human understanding and he continues to give the people of Israel (and us) second, third and 154th chances.
One thing I find interesting are the two metaphors used in chapter 3, verses 19 & 20:
“I myself said,
“‘How gladly would I treat you like my children
and give you a pleasant land,
the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’
I thought you would call me ‘Father’
and not turn away from following me.
But like a woman unfaithful to her husband,
so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,”
declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 3:19-20)
To be sure, both of these metaphors – the church as the children of God and the church as the bride of God – are found throughout scripture, but the proximity of these two similar but different images is striking. Here, God says that he wanted his people to call him Father – to have that kind of relationship with him – then he switches metaphors and says that Israel has been like a woman unfaithful to her husband.
It seems to me like this mixed metaphor might have been very intentional. You see, God’s original plan seems to have been for us to have a very innocent relationship with him – like a child relates to a Father. We were supposed to love him, trust him and want to be with him like a child wants to be with daddy. Instead, we have tried, since the beginning of time, to establish ourselves as equals – partners with God – and here in Jeremiah’s prophecy, it seems like God is saying, “OK, if you want to have that kind of relationship, then that’s what we’ll have.”
There is innocence lost when we move from a father/child relationship to a husband/wife relationship. If a child runs away, the father will always welcome them home. But if someone commits adultery, their spouse is really not expected to welcome them back. In other words, the people of Israel, through their actions, not only moved into a different kind of relationship with God, but they have also raised the bar on the kind of grace God will have to extend to them in order to welcome them back – the kind of grace a husband would have to have in order to welcome his adulterous (multiple times) wife back.
When I read these words, I’m reminded that no matter how we may “move the goalposts,” God’s love is so great that he will continue to adjust his grace. It’s just unfortunate that, like a spoiled spouse, we continually take advantage of that fact.
I love this passage from today’s reading:
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. (Proverbs 4:7)
It seems obvious – almost silly – but this is actually a pretty profound statement. You see, the key to becoming wise is that you must seek to become wise. Wisdom, Solomon seems to be saying, is not something that happens naturally or something that will just come to you accidentally. Wisdom must be gotten – it must be pursued. The beginning of wisdom is an active seeking of wisdom.
Step number two on the wisdom learning chart, then, must be “Keep it in your pants.” It’s interesting how quickly Solomon jumps to adultery when discussing wisdom. We must remember that this is a man who had seen the effects of adultery. His mother, Bathsheba, had had an adulterous affair with his father, David. The result was that Bathsheba’s first husband was killed, her firstborn son died shortly after birth and David was disgraced and forever changed.
Solomon had seen the aftermath of adultery. Even though his father and mother were married when he was conceived, he had spent his whole life living in the midst of that adulterous aftermath. He knew how destructive an indiscretion like David’s could be. And so, his advice rings out loud and clear:
But a man who commits adultery has no sense;
whoever does so destroys himself. (Proverbs 5:32)
Contrition causes us to change our tone, doesn’t it? Do you notice the different in the tone of voice used when David is asking God for forgiveness compared to the tone he uses when asking God to strike down his enemies? When confronted with his own misgivings, David writes and sings about God’s perfections.
You see, as we come to grips with our own darkness, the light of God is evermore clear to us. And as we see that contrast, we are drawn away from our own dark places and toward God’s light. David here, caught in an adulterous affair and outed as a murderer, was having to come to grips with the fact that as “righteous” as he may have been, he had some unrighteous parts, too.
The result is that he is drawn back to God:
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 51:10-12)
I wonder why it so often takes a disastrous even for us to come to the realization that we really need God. Shouldn’t we be asking God to create a clean heart in us and to renew a steadfast spirit each and every day? Shouldn’t we recognize and verbalize the fact that we are spiritual weaklings living in a spiritual war zone? Can’t we just admit that we need some help?
But we don’t, do we? We ask for help only when things are really bad. We seek God only when we’ve run out of options. We have a reactive faith, rather than an active faith. And then, when something really bad happens, we re-prioritize. Well, what if we didn’t have to re-prioritize when something tragic occurs? What if we had our priorities right every day?
Too hard? Yeah, probably. But that’s why these words of David are so important. You see, we can try to have a clean heart (and we will fail miserably) but God can actually create in us a clean heart. So, as you go about your daily activities, would you join me in asking God to create clean hearts in us?
If we rely on him to do the work , and if we make the request, I am confident that he will respond.