Posts tagged ‘Polygamy’

Discerning Right From Wrong

File:Italy, Bologna, 17th century - Jacob and Laban with Rachel and Leah (recto) Sketch of Two Men and Other Va - 1939.666 - Cleveland Museum of Art.jpg
Jacob and Laban with Rachel and Leah / Italy, 17th century / Wikipedia

When Jacob marries both the daughters of his uncle Laban in Genesis 29, it is difficult not to suspect that these marriages will go nowhere good fast. The story goes that Jacob falls in love with Laban’s youngest daughter, Rachel, and agrees to work seven years for his uncle as a kind of dowry to gain the girl. But after Jacob’s seven years of service are completed, his uncle gives him his older daughter, Leah, instead, insisting:

It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the other one also, in return for another seven years of work. (Genesis 29:26-27)

Jacob is so smitten by Rachel, he gladly obliges. The problem is that now Jacob has two wives – and one is clearly his favorite. Unsurprisingly, this causes a host of problems in both marriages. At first, only Leah is able to bear children for Jacob, which was critical in the ancient world. The continuation of a family line was a primary source of pride in this culture. When Rachel sees that Leah is bearing her husband children, she becomes jealous and gives Jacob one of her servants named Bilhah to sleep with, so he can have children she can claim through this servant. This arouses Leah’s jealousy, who responds by offering to her husband her servant, Zilpah, through whom he can have even more children.

In the middle of this marital mess, Jacob sleeps with Leah and she becomes pregnant. She is delighted and proclaims, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband” (Genesis 30:18).

Really? Leah really believes that God is pleased with her for offering her servant to her husband so he can sleep with her? Morally, this sounds preposterous to us. But it seems to have sounded sensible to Leah. After all, the proof of God’s pleasure at the arrangement was in the gift God gave her – a son.  Right?

The Psalmist once prayed: “Who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12). Human beings are so deeply sinful that, sometimes, we sin and don’t even know it. This is true of Leah. She is so desperate for her husband’s affection that she is willing to bring an extra woman into a relationship that is already problematically polygamous and then interpret the fruit of that sin as a sanction from God.

A story like this should instill in us a little humility. If Leah could think that something as deeply morally wrong as offering another woman to your husband is right, is there a possibility that we might get morally confused, too?

The prophet Isaiah once warned:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. (Isaiah 5:20-21)

Morally, we can often try to be too clever by half. We cleverly excuse our lies using a cloak of confidentiality. We cleverly cover our gossip with a patina of prayer. And we, like Leah, can cleverly misinterpret a blessing from God as a divine imprimatur on some kind of bad behavior.

To understand right and wrong, morality and immorality, righteousness and wickedness, we must constantly return to the clear certainty of God’s commands. He is the One who can take our worst moral instincts and replace them with a godly conscience, shaped by His Spirit and truth. So, let’s not fool ourselves. Let’s listen to the Lord.

November 16, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Monogamish Is Nothing Like Monogamous

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The opening of Zachary Zane’s op-ed piece for The Washington Post reads almost like satire:

During my exploratory college years, I was often confused about my sexuality. I knew I had loved women, but found myself, drunkenly, in the arms of various men. I wasn’t sure why I was doing it. Was I in denial of being gay? Was I simply an open-minded straight guy? Or was I just a drunk and horny hot mess?

These questions kept me up at night.

This has all the trappings of a hackneyed B-list movie about a frat guy caught in an existential crisis fueled by alcohol and lust.  But Mr. Zane isn’t playing on silly stereotypes.  He’s serious.  This becomes all too clear as he continues:

My senior year of college, I entertained the idea that I might be bisexual, but I didn’t embrace the label until a year after graduating. That’s when I learned that I didn’t have to like men and women equally to be bisexual. I learned that sexuality was a spectrum, and my point on the spectrum wasn’t fixed…

In my queer theory class in college, I also learned that gender, too, is on a spectrum. Some of us don’t view ourselves as strictly male or female. We can be both, neither, or somewhere in between, a.k.a. bigender, agender or genderqueer.

This led me to ask the question: Since sexuality and gender aren’t understood as binary anymore, does monogamy have to be?

The morphological ludicrousness of the claim that monogamy can be on a continuum aside – “mono,” after all, does mean “one” and “gamos” refers to marriage, which means that any romantic relationship that involves more than one person committing themselves to one other person is, by definition, no longer monogamy – this claim also brings with it a whole host of relational, emotional, and theological problems.

Relationally and emotionally, polyamorous relationships are recipes for ruin.  Narratively, the Bible makes this clear enough in its description of the disastrous polygamous relationships of patriarchs like Jacob and Solomon.  Theologically, however, the problem goes deeper than just ill-fated relationships.

Timothy Keller makes the point that Christianity places a high value on self-sacrifice.  Indeed, the heart of the Christian faith is found in a man who sacrificed Himself on a cross and invites us to deny ourselves by taking up our own crosses and following Him (cf. Matthew 16:24).  Our culture sees things differently.  Rather than placing a premium on self-sacrifice, our culture tends to value and even idolize self-assertion.  We are obsessed with asserting who we believe ourselves to be and demanding that those around us accept and celebrate who we say we are.

The problem with self-assertion is that it is often little more than a flimsy mask for self-indulgence and self-centeredness.  This is why polyamorous relationships are so dangerous.  When two people are more concerned with their own sexual desires than with committing themselves and giving themselves sexually to their partner, they wind up using each other instead of loving each other.  In this way, self-assertion is the very antithesis of love.  The words of the apostle Paul come to mind here: “Love is not self-seeking” (1 Corinthians 13:5).  You can’t love someone well and seek first yourself.

I understand that two people may freely agree to live in a polyamorous relationship.  But is this because they are truly committed to each other, or is this because they are secretly committed to themselves?  I also understand that monogamy can be difficult.  I have counseled enough couples rocked by affairs to know how easily and how often marriage vows can be broken.  But I have also seen how deeply an affair hurts the cheated upon and the children in a family.  The person having the affair may find some measure of self-indulgent satisfaction, but only while exacting out of others a steep and terrible price of brokenness and pain.

Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves:  what kind of people should we be?  People who indulge our fetishes, chase our desires, and flex our selfishness, even as we try to disguise our shamefully selfish selves under a facile moral-esque construct of self-assertion? Or should we be people who think about others before we think about ourselves, even if that means denying our desires and even if those desires include our sexuality?

Christianity’s answer is clear.  To repeat Jesus’ call to us all: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).

Deny themselves.”

Deny the money you could spend on yourself to give it to someone else.

Deny the time you could keep for yourself to be present with someone else.

And yes, deny the sexual desires you feel in yourself to be devoted to someone else.

Why?  Because when you deny the desire to assert yourself for the sake of someone else, that’s when you find the things in life that matter most.  Indeed, that’s when you find yourself.

“Whoever loses their life for Me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

That’s self-sacrifice.  And that’s a life well-lived.

December 12, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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