Category: Bible

The perils of friendship?

Wesley Hill has written an article about friendship called Love, Again. He explains why he – a Christian, celibate gay man – befriends couples. In it, he tells his story of a friendship which went wrong. The whole article is worth reading – it’s well worth your time – but I just want to focus on one point which he makes. He says:

What I didn’t realize, though, is that, for the intentionally abstinent, giving up sex is only part of the deal, and there’s more than one line you can step across.

What he goes on to describe is a friendship which took on a bigger part in his life than it should:

Spencer was God’s solution to my loneliness, I was convinced. And, in so many words, I told God that I had made my peace with sexual abstinence—so long as I got to keep my friendship, the closest friendship I’d ever had, with Spencer. That was the deal. I felt confident about it, at peace with it, ready to shoulder the burdens of the decades ahead, so long as Spencer could live next door.

One of the issues we humans have is that of idolatry – the worship of created things (as in, things created by God) rather than God. In other words, exchanging the worship rightly due our Creator with the worship of created things. This exchange is described by Paul in Romans 1, but also Jeremiah 2:13 – “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Tim Keller wrote a book about this called Counterfeit Gods).

A god is something that we look to instead of the true God to provide us with security, prosperity, happiness, fulfilment, etc. And of course, the ‘gods’ we put in the place of God cannot satisfy. They might satisfy for a while – but we will be placing an intolerable burden on them.

This is why I think what Wesley says is helpful: it demonstrates what happens when a good thing – a friendship – becomes a ‘god thing’: a god substitute. It’s a salutary reminder that, as he says, there’s more than one boundary we can cross. It’s not enough simply to avoid lust – far more fundamental is the gods we worship.

I have a couple of thoughts about this:

Idolatry is not exclusive to friendships. Many couples go off the rails because they expect their partner to fulfil their every desire, when in actual fact only God can do that. If you put your spouse in the place of God, you will have real problems!

The solution to the problem is not avoidance. I’ve said several times on the site that the solution to lust is not to avoid those you are attracted to! It’s a  matter of being transformed to love rather than simply avoid sin. It’s the same with idolatry – when we are let down by people or things, the solution is not to avoid those things but rather put our hope and trust in the Lord. I believe that God sometimes gives us this kind of experience to help us know more deeply the truth that only he satisfies our deepest longings.  Much of what I’ve already said about immorality could be applied to idolatry also.

It’s helpful to be reminded that in relationships it’s always possible to go wrong in more than one way – we focus on lust because it in society it is perhaps the most visible, obvious issue. But the first greatest commandment is to love the Lord God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength – if we go wrong with that, we don’t do well with loving our neighbour as ourselves.

Does God care about women? – Abigail and Nabal

A couple of years ago, God led me to this passage in quite an amazing way – he focussed my attention on it in a way I’d never expected. I was reading through 1 Samuel in my daily devotional time, and I’d been getting more and more frustrated with the commentary I was using – I just found I wasn’t benefiting from it at all! One day it got to the point where I had a spare few minutes and I just decided to read that morning’s passage from the Bible, to see if I could do any better than the commentary. The passage I read then was 1 Samuel 25 – the story of David, Abigail and Nabal.

The story begins:

A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings – he was a Calebite.

So, we have Nabal, a wealthy man but “surly and mean” – not good husband material! And we have Abigail who is “intelligent and beautiful”. I won’t go through the whole story (although it’s worth reading), but briefly: David’s men come to Nabal and ask to stay there. (David and his men had previously been good to Nabal). Nabal is true to character and says no to these men. They go back and say to David what he has said – and David orders them to get ready for battle, intending to kill Nabal and his men.

Abigail – again, true to her character – goes directly to David, apologises on behalf of Nabal and intercedes for him. David listens to Abigail and relents. The story ends with Nabal dying and David marrying Abigail.

What do we make of this rather strange episode? What I found interesting about this at the time – and still do today – is how it relates to our situation today.

I’ve written elsewhere about the problem we face as a society – that relationships between men and women are breaking down. Now obviously this affects both men and women. However, I think women suffer from this trend disproportionately. Consider the following:

  • If a relationship breaks down, who is almost always left with any children? The mother (according to this page, 90% of single parents are mothers).
  • Mark Regnerus’ book Cheap Sex (link in the resources section) highlights the fact that many women would actually prefer to be married, but find it hard to ask due to the way things are at the moment. Cohabiting is actually bad for women (even The Guardian sees this! as well as more conservative publications) – cohabiting favours the partner who is least committed, which tends to be the man.
  • As we saw in the #MeToo movement – sexual harassment and abuse are now commonplace – and this is almost entirely in the male -> female direction.

This is the society we live in, and women in particular are suffering.

That’s why I think this passage is good news. Abigail, the woman who is “beautiful and intelligent”, lives with Nabal – an oppressive husband, “surly and mean”. How things have changed in 3,000 years! But here’s the thing: does God care about her? Yes, he does. In fact, she comes to David – God’s anointed King – and he takes her for his own bride.

If you read your Bible carefully, you will know that Jesus is the King who comes “from the line of David” – this is made clear in several places, not least the genealogies in the gospels (e.g. Luke 3:31 includes David as an ancestor of Jesus). Jesus is the King, the Messiah, the chosen one – who is greater than David.

I think what we have in this story is a microcosm of what God is doing now: God listens and he cares about the plight of these women. He has listened, and will send his anointed king to take them for his own – to be part of the bride of Christ, the church. This story shows that God cares about women suffering – but this story also shows the solution: Jesus Christ. In Christ we have a solution to the problems highlighted by #MeToo – a solution which will affect both men and women.

That’s what this website is about: there are problems, deep problems, in our society – but Jesus Christ is the answer. Look to him.

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