Somebody said that prominent people, like politicians and preachers, when they fall, always fall in the same areas: power, money or sex. There’s a lot of evidence around to establish that viewpoint. I don’t know if sexual infidelity in the 21st century is any more widespread and recurring than in centuries before; I only know I hear more about it and I tend to think it is.
I know that many of us have reason to be ashamed that we’ve broken the promise we gave to our beloved and we’re bitterly disappointed at our moral weakness and the sin we have committed in this area. The prevalence of such infidelity tempts us to believe that humans simply can’t keep such promises but thankfully there are tens of thousands among us who live and have lived splendidly in the limelight and who remind us that defeat is no foregone conclusion and that while there might be occasions when there was serious hand-to-hand fighting going on faithfulness is not beyond us. Job was a man like that!
In 31:1 he said this: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a maiden.” Versions differ on how the text should be rendered. The NRSV and the ESV say, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I look on a virgin?” In either case this man had made up his mind to behave and having made that commitment, he wants to know (NRSV), how else could I have treated a girl?
He goes on to say (31:9-12), under oath, that he never went after other women and he didn’t lurk around his neighbor’s house to make moves on his wife. He says before the God who knows all things that he never did such things and he never did them because he had made an inner covenant that he had lived by. Job’s brave response to life on the ash-heap is inspiring but his princely response to life in the midst of unequalled success was stunning and glorious. To be true to the basic relationships and commitments in life is the kind of thing that turns God’s head and gets his admiration and makes so many of us groan in remorse and repentance and makes us vow to pursue honor.
That kind of faithfulness has its spin-off rewards. For one thing, when we do what’s right we don’t have to lament and grieve as Lancelot did. In Tennyson’s Arthurian legends no one was greater than Lancelot. Knight of knights, bravest of the brave, defender of the defenseless, fearless righter of wrongs, unbeatable warrior, sunny in disposition, known and acclaimed from one end of the kingdom to the other, daydream of countless young women’s hearts and sinner with another man’s wife!
At one point in his royal career Lancelot is terribly wounded and young Elaine nursed him from the point of death until he fully recovered, falling in love with him in the course of it all. Because her love for him was so deep and tender and because he was so enthralled with the king’s wife, Guinevere, and because he wants Elaine to think less of him and forget him—because all this was the case Lancelot rides off in pretended indifference, without a word to the girl who had saved his life and adored him.
In her despair and loneliness she kills herself. Lancelot is in agony when he hears of it and his guilty heart links this great wrong with his own great sin with Guinevere. King Arthur, apparently the only man in the kingdom who doesn’t know something is wrong, is telling Lancelot how wonderful he is and how revealing it was (despite its tragic nature) that a girl should love him so deeply as to take her life; again, this was proof of Lancelot’s greatness in the eyes of the king. But the sinner can bear no more praise and leaves to walk alone down by the river where he expresses his deep self-hatred and laments over the pain he brings to all around him.
For what am I? What profits my name
Of greatest knight?
I fought for it, and have it:
Pleasure to have it, none; to lose it, pain;
Now grown a part of me: but what use is it?
To make men worse by making my sin known?
Or sin seem less, the sinner seeming great?
He tells himself he has become used to having his wondrous reputation but finds no pleasure in it even though it would give him pain to lose it. Under God he has become a household word, people swear by his name and young men take him as the model for their lives but because of his sin his fame will weaken men’s hearts. Precisely because he has such fame the story of his shame will spread farther and discourage more, disappoint more, make more all the more cynical.
Or worse! When some men see someone as valiant as Lancelot involved in such sin will they not think it isn’t so bad? Might they dismiss the evil of the evil because they’re blinded by this man’s greatness? [“Well, when you’re as great as Lancelot, people have to make allowances.” Or, “Don’t make such a big deal of my corrupt behavior, even people as great as Lancelot have fallen.”]
Where Lancelot fell many a great man or woman has fallen. Now in the position to really help others they hurt them the more deeply. God having given them the eyes and the ears of the public they “make men worse by making their sin known or sin seem less the sinner seeming great.”
It wasn’t that way with the man from Uz. He lived in the open; he wasn’t tortured by hidden evil; he had made no sly deals in business, he corrupted no judges and he hadn’t behaved himself unjustly when he sat as judge. This was no lecherous old man who eyed the girls or made moves on another man’s wife. Not only did he not do what was wicked he didn’t think the evil thoughts because he had made a covenant with his heart and eyes in such matters.
He who couldn’t stand to see widows in need or orphans destitute and alone, who couldn’t bear to see the poor go hungry or cold, who wouldn’t dream of using his powerful position against anyone in court—he kept himself for one woman with whom he made a covenant of marriage. Was there ever such a glorious life as this man’s? Is it any wonder God’s eyes shone with admiration when he thought of him?
God and Job both knew he was a sinner. He says this in his own defense, “If I have concealed my sin as men do, by hiding my sin in my heart because I so feared the crowd and so dreaded the contempt of the clans that I kept silent and would not go outside…” (31:33-34). He takes it for granted that they know he’s a sinner but his sin didn’t characterize his life, it was the goodness of God in it that best described him. His life was an open book, he didn’t hide indoors if an accusation was made against him, refusing to face it publicly in case it made matters worse, hoping it would all blow over—no, he went out to face it and dealt with it in public as a public man should do. He rejoiced in what was noble and compassionate and that’s how he had been since boyhood (31:18). All that and he was also true to his wife!
For all the talk of sexual revolution and freedom and despite the fact that this generation is obsessed with sex, marital faithfulness is alive and well and even the silly soap operas continue to make a fuss in the plot over people who are unfaithful to each other. To look at a husband or wife whose joy includes the rich satisfaction of knowing (without thinking too much about it) that they have kept faith with God and with someone else at a profound level—to look at them is to see one of life’s truly lovely sights. Let those sneer who want to but it isn’t loyalty and decency that’s on trial here; it’s the shabby behavior of the poor fool who hasn’t it in him/her to keep the covenant they’ve made.
Let me say it again, those of us who haven’t maintained that honor and integrity have plenty to regret but there are millions who not only don’t have “affairs” or “make moves” , they don’t even think about them. They’re too pleased with married life as it is, too pleased with life out in the sunlight that they don’t dream of sneaking around in the dark.
To live with guilty secrets; to be afraid that others will discover; to feel awkward in the company of someone who can’t keep from praising you, who trusts you—to look at your unsuspecting children, at his or hers; to be so ashamed that you can’t engage in noble ventures that need your help lest you bring them into disrepute should the truth come out—to live like that is to live in the shadows. Those of us who know what it is to have behaved shamefully know beyond debate that no amount of money, power or praise can make a sordid life sunny or a vile act excusable.
To love with no wish to love another in the same way; to keep your covenant cheerfully in the face of other influences; to lie beside that one and that one only in the gentle darkness is to live in the sunlight. No degree of poverty, no business failure, no being aware that we didn’t “make our mark in this life” can take that away or obliterate the luster of a life like that or fill it with unbroken gloom. To avoid not only the deed but also the sinister longing, the wishing, now that’s integrity. Job and millions of others had and have that and without feeling smug they rejoiced to know it. F.W. Robertson spoke about that kind of thing when he said:
“Beware of those fancies, those day dreams, which represent things as possible that should be forever impossible. Beware of that affection which cares for your happiness more than for your honor.”
Beware of anything that robs you of life in the sunshine!
And yet, try not to forget John 8:1-11 and Luke 15. Run on back home.
Nicholson has king Arthur saying to Lancelot:
“God uses people like you Lancelot because your heart is open You hold nothing back You give all of yourself.”
Lancelot: “If you knew me better you would not say such things”
Arthur: “I take the good with the bad together; I can’t love people in slices.”
(Holy One we take your holiness seriously and long to as does our Father but it is LIFE to us that your Holy Son was called “a friend of sinners” and that His every day among us convicting us, assuring us, healing us and helping us was you revealing yourself in Him. Empower us to wisely love one another not in slices. It’s so hard for us even when we know that you don’t love us in slices.)
I’ve taken the heart of this from my Life On The Ash Heap book.