Marriage and Family

And the Three Shall Become One Flesh? Men’s Sexual Fantasies and Christ’s Saving Reality

When the mind is at play, especially when there are no teachers, no rules, no fences in the mental playground, when the brain is free to do whatever tickles its fancy, we wander into that realm called fantasy. I don’t have to tell you to try it sometime; most of us do it every day, without even realizing it’s happening. Maybe on the drive to work. Maybe during a boring lecture. Maybe when our head hits the pillow. When there’s nothing we must think about, we are prone to think about what we like, what we fear, or what we desire.

I don’t have a woman’s mind, so I can’t speak for you ladies. But I have plenty of personal knowledge of what happens inside a brain that drives a body fueled with testosterone. For us—for me anyway, and I think for most men—our fantasy playground almost always has a bed as its central feature. What happens in that fantasy bed, and with whom it happens, varies from man to man. There are plenty of lists on the web for the top ten sexual fantasies of men, and I’m sure that Cosmo has devoted at least a gazillion recycled articles to this subject, so there’s no need to give you a string of examples. What is revealing is to take your own go-to fantasy and de-fantasize it. Ask yourself what that fantasy reveals about you, your view of sex, and, by extension, your belief about love. Your fantasy may be fantasy, but fantasies unearth real desires; and real desires direct the heart; and the heart, when it steers our life in certain directions, can easily drive us straight off the cliff of destruction.

Let me give you just one example, a very common example of a male sexual fantasy: the threesome. Contrary to appearances, contrary to what men may think they’re daydreaming about, this mini-orgy is not really about getting a double female portion to satiate the sexual appetite. What a man wants is not so much two women, but a twofold increase in his own perceived level of personal machismo. His penis is nothing but a tool with which he boosts his own ego. He feels sexier, stronger, more desirable.

Now what’s most revealing is that the threesome is not really about sex at all, at least, not sex as understood biblically, according to the will of the One who created sex. This is a man-becoming-god fantasy. It’s about the self, the male self, in a scenario in which he is the deity of his self-created brand of sex. What the true God made isn’t good enough for him. He wants not the two, but the three to become one flesh. He doesn’t want fidelity; he doesn’t want a lifelong, wedded union with one wife who is bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh, and mother of their children. So he creates in his fantasy a new Eden in which he is the Lord of two Eves, who are crafted not from his rib but from his ego, made to serve his selfish desires.

Here is a fantasy that, when stripped of its seemingly overt sexuality, is but one more example of man’s ongoing attempt to break the first commandment in new, creative ways. “You shall have no other gods,” God says, and we, spurred on by the prohibition, roll up our sleeves and get to work fashioning gods like there’s no tomorrow. The mind is an idol-making machine, so the mind that fantasizes about sex is prone to make gods that are gilded with sensuality. Amongst the many dangers here, two come to mind. The most obvious is that God threatens to punish all who break His commandments. And His punishment is no fantasy; it is man’s worst nightmare.

The second danger is that the more man entertains sexual fantasies that denigrate the divine gift that sex actually is, the more prone he will be to make those daydreams into reality. Oh, he will kid himself into thinking, “Hey, all I’m doing is in my head. It’s fantasy. No harm in that.” But fantasies sprinkle salt into an already thirsty mouth. It’s only a matter of time before he decides he must take that drink, when what a man is doing in his head becomes what he’s doing in his bed. And if his fantasy, like so many of them, is nothing more than an idolatrous usurpation of sex to serve his own selfish cravings, then he will destroy his own soul and, if married, bring untold harm upon the woman whom he has sworn to love and cherish till death parts them.

There’s a verse from a hymn that I return to again and again in my own internal struggles with this:

If some lust in current fashion

Rises like a fiery flood,

Draw me to your cross and Passion,

Quench the fire, Lord, by your blood.

Lest I to the tempter yield,

Let me front him with the shield,

Thorn-crowned, blood-marked tree displaying,

Sign the devils find dismaying.

(“Grant, Lord Jesus, that My Healing” Lutheran Worship, 95).

While that “thorn-crowned, blood-marked tree” is indeed a shield against temptation, it is much more. It is the place where fantasy meets reality, where man comes eye-to-eye with true, real love. The kind of love that gives all, nothing held back. The kind of love that doesn’t even know what self-serving might mean for all it does is serve the other. This is God-love, pure love, the only real love in our whole wide world for it is pure, unadulterated, unfiltered. On that thorn-crowned, blood-marked tree God loved us out of our fantasies and into His reality; loved us out of sin and into salvation; loved us out of our rebellion and into His redemption.

In Jesus, baptized into Him, we become one flesh with God Himself. And in that union is true contentment, for there is no want. When we have God, we have all, for we have Him who is our everything. We have forgiveness for our sexually twisted minds, forgiveness for our sexually twisted acts, forgiveness full and free. And in its place, in that gap left by sin, there is the fullness of Christ, who inhabits our bodies even as we inhabit His, bone of each other’s bone, flesh of each other’s flesh. It is gift, all gift, from Him who rescues us from ourselves and remakes us in His image and likeness.

Better than any fantasy, better than any daydream, is the reality that I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me.

Men, What Are We Trying to Prove?

How many wives are now ex-wives; how many children can’t stomach Father’s Day; how many congregations have been torn to shreds; how many lives have been hurt or destroyed—all because we men think we have something to prove? I’ll be the first to admit that this drive to prove myself ultimately proved my undoing. Like many men, I felt this need to prove to my family, my friends, my students, my church, my God, and—most of all—to myself, that where others would fail, I would succeed; where they would settle for average, I would excel; where others would melt into obscurity, I would be known. And because, deep down, I knew the sinister nature of this drive, I employed an age old tactic to deal with it: I renamed it. I called it “driven” or “a competitive spirit” or “the will to succeed.” But it wasn’t. My lips may have called it a beauty, but my heart knew it was a beast.

We like to define ourselves, and to have others see us and talk about us, based upon our accomplishments. What I have done defines who I am, gives me self-worth, makes me feel like I’ve proven myself a man among men. But there’s always that nagging sense of doubt. There’s always those other men who have more trophies, bigger salaries, sexier wives, who make us feel like we’ve not done enough. Of course, we’re not going to admit this, because men don’t like to admit weakness, especially any sense of inferiority we feel in relation to other men. So, instead, we embark on these quests to prove ourselves.

Maybe we pour ourselves into work, so that our wives find themselves alone every evening on the couch and later in bed, while we’re out proving that we deserve that promotion, that we do a better job at work than anyone else. Maybe we’re getting a little older, and we wonder if we still have what it takes to bed another woman, so we strike up a flirtatious conversation, then friendship, then hook-up, with this young, sexy thing who makes us feel alive again and proves that we have as much sexual prowess as any other man. Maybe we’re clergy, and we see how other churches are growing while ours seems stagnant or even dying, so to prove ourselves we begin to water down our theology and sexy up our services to fill more pews and fatten the offering plate, so as to prove to others that we’re just as good as any other man of God.

Where does all this proving ourselves get us? Very often it gets us out of our house and into an apartment, where we see our children every other weekend, take up a second or third job to help cover the child support check, and crawl into bed every night hoping that we don’t wake up in the morning to face the reality of the life we now have since we’ve gone and proved ourselves. And maybe, once we hit that bottom, we’ll realize that all we’ve proven is that somewhere along the way, we bought into the lie that life is defined by what we do, what we accomplish, instead of who God has made us to be and what he has accomplished for us.

One of the best things that ever happened to me was failure. It was like a trip to the ophthalmologist, by which my vision was improved so that I was able to see how I’d gotten to that point. Failure did not make me worse or make me better. It simply gave me clarity, so that I beheld the evil, selfish, destructive dispositions slithering around inside me, tempting me with forbidden fruit, inflating my ego, urging me always to prove myself.

I also found in that pit called failure another man, one named Jesus, who, to my utter astonishment, told me that I had nothing to prove. He told me that He loved me just as I was. I didn’t need to become the best so as to have His best. I didn’t need to succeed to secure His favor or win His approval. I didn’t need to do anything; He picked me up, threw me over His shoulder, and climbed out that dark pit into the light of life, with me in tow.

What are we trying to prove? Who are we trying to prove it to? And what and who are we willing to hurt or neglect or destroy along the way to achieve this goal? I tell you the truth, it’s not worth it. There is a better way. This better way does not mean emasculation; in fact, it makes us real men. It is the way of finding our identity in the man of the cross. To lose our lives in Him is to find a true and meaningful and fulfilling life, for it is the life that God intended for us from the beginning. It is who He created us to be. To live in Christ is to live in fidelity to our wives. To live in Christ is to love our children. To live in Christ is for Him to live His life through us, so that we become His hands and feet and lips by which others are served.

You have nothing to prove. But you have everything to gain by losing your life and finding real life in the Man from Nazareth.

Anniversary of a Dead Marriage: The Painful Lessons of Divorce

Although I wrote this article almost a year and a half ago, someone reads it almost every day. Readers stumble upon it when they Google phrases such as "divorce anniversary." That's just one small token of the multitudes of people who struggle to recover from a broken marriage and the lifelong scars that violent separation can bring. I am reposting it on my blog today so that perhaps it will reach some who haven't seen it. This is my own unedited, raw reflection upon what divorce did to me, as well as what I learned from it. I'm sure some will take issue with my disagreement with St. Paul, but that's okay. Perhaps I misunderstand the apostle and need to be corrected. If you are reading this as one who suffers the ongoing pains of divorce, know that I am praying for you, that Christ may work healing in you, as He has in me.

Today, December 29, would have been the twenty-second anniversary of my first marriage. Five years have passed since our divorce—years raw with emotion, scarred by mistakes, scabbed over with hints of hope. Every year, when this day rolls around, I turn over the stones of remembrance that litter my mind, to see what lurks beneath. I see things there I don’t want to see, learn things about myself that I never wanted to know, but do anyway. I also see there lessons learned, painful but positive lessons. This piece is more for me than anyone else, though you are welcome to tag along and spy on my thoughts.

1. The Undivorced Don’t Get It. I’ve never stood by the freshly dug grave of my beloved wife. Never has the blood of a fellow soldier been showered on me during a firefight. I’ve never been bankrupt or homeless or had cancer. I don’t know about a lot of things, because I haven’t experienced those hells. The happily married, undivorced man or woman knows nothing of the agony of divorce, and should never pretend otherwise. This includes pastors, and all those who may seek to counsel the divorced. They should never assume they “get” what the divorced person is going through. Every loss, every grief is unique, and to make it generic by universalizing it cheapens the hurt the divorced feel.

2. I disagree with St. Paul. When he writes to the Corinthians, Paul says, “One who is unmarried is concerned with the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife,” (1 Cor 7:32-33). Not for me. Most men who are unmarried are concerned with finding a woman whom they can marry. And until they do that, most of their thoughts, energies, time, and, yes, money, are directed toward that end. I was much more concerned about the things of the Lord when I was married than when I became single. It is not good for the man to be alone, and so long as he is, it won’t be good for him personally, or his service to the Lord. With notable exceptions, men are created for women. And it is in the vocation of husband that they serve the Lord best, for they are completed by her.

3. Lonely, Hurting Men Make Bad Decisions. I made the mistake many men do immediately after their divorce: the first woman I dated, I “fell in love with” and soon we were making wedding plans. I later broke off the engagement as the reality that this was a rebound relationship slowly sank in, although, of course, it was at an additional emotional cost to both of us, as well as our mutual children. Every relationship is a risk, but the risk skyrockets when the man is still nursing wounds from a failed marriage. He wants nothing more than a restored wholeness, to recreate a past that either did exist, or exists only in his nostalgic imagination. And in this state of yearning for healing, he tends to idealize a woman, seeing in her the wife he wants her to be instead of the woman whom she really is.

4. Divorce Unveils the Monster Within Divorce brings out the worst in people. It certainly did in me. I was little aware of the fathomless depths of anger, spite, depression, regret, pettiness, and selfishness within me until my marriage ended. Then it all came oozing, or exploding, to the surface, in various ways and at various times. I remember late one night, while working in the oil field, having a conversation with another driver who was going through a divorce. His wife had left him for another man. He described how his every waking moment was consumed with fantasies of revenge, murderous payback, horrid thoughts he’d never entertained before. Divorce can do that, unearthing new evils within. It’s a dark journey of self-knowledge. And although, thank God, most of the time these monsters within us remain caged, never acting out the evils of which they are capable, the sheer fact that they are there at all is enough to make me scared of the man I have the potential to become.

5. Healing Will Begin, But It Takes Its Sweet Time I’m fortunate because I survived divorce. I didn’t put a gun to my head and pull the trigger, though on my darkest of days I held the pistol in my hand. I didn’t become addicted to something that would dull the pain, though I did my fair share of self-medicating with alcohol. I came through, wounded and scarred to be sure, but at least alive. Not every one is so lucky. God placed into my life a few select friends without whose love I would not have made it. Not surprisingly, these friends are divorced as well. They get it. I am at a point of healing now, five years later, that I thought I’d never reach, even if I had five lifetimes. I still have a long way to go, but at least I’ve made progress. Baby steps are steps nonetheless. I have two children, a son and daughter. They live with their mother and step-father. I see them four to six days a month—days that mean the world to me. As heart-breaking as my time apart from them is, I have grown to thank God that, in the aftermath of our divorce, our children are still provided with a stable, secure, Christian home in which to grow up. Indeed, they are blessed with a good mother and a caring stepfather.

The very fact that I can write that last sentence, and mean every word, is proof positive that, five years after my divorce, the Lord has made a little progress in putting this shattered man back together again.

When Focus on the Family Becomes Idolatry

“He who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Matthew 10:37

She is never mentioned in Genesis 22. God is, Abraham is, Isaac is, but Sarah is missing from the story. Did she know that God had decided to test her husband? Was she aware that this testing was the sacrifice of their one and only son? When she kissed Isaac goodbye for this odd journey to the land of Moriah, did she have any notion that God had commanded her husband to lay their son atop an altar, sink a knife into his heart, and burn his body to ashes? We don’t know what Sarah knew.

We do know that, after the story is over, after Abraham passes the test, after Isaac is spared when the blade is in midair, that Sarah dies. Jewish tradition sees no coincidence in the fact that her passing in Genesis 23 follows immediately after her son’s near-sacrifice in Genesis 22. When it says, “Sarah died…and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her,” (23:2), it means that Abraham went from Mount Moriah to mourn for her. These traditions suggest that, when this mother heard of what was to take place on that mountain, assuming as she did that Isaac would in fact be sacrificed, she cried out and breathed her last. Her son was her life, therefore, his death was her death.

“Children are a gift of the Lord,” the Psalmist sings. Oh, indeed, they are. A parent’s heart is inextricably bound to the heart of his child. We can understand why, according to Jewish tradition, this mother died upon hearing of the assumed death of her boy. Likewise, we can hear the depth of agony seeping through the cracks in David’s broken heart as he cries out, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son, my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33). I think I speak for most mothers and fathers when I say that my greatest fear is the death of one of my children.

This parent-to-child love makes it all the harder to hear Jesus’ words in the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday: “He who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Matthew 10:37. It is certainly fitting that Jesus immediately adds, “He who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” These words do indeed feel like a heavy cross to bear.

But what does it mean to love someone or something more than we love Jesus? It means that they who were formed as a gift we transform into a god. You see, idols are not mere blocks of wood or stone before whom pagans kneel; idols are beloved things, beloved people, whom we fear or love or trust more than God. We are all, at heart, idolaters, for we are prone to turn presents from heaven into the presence of divinity on earth. We break no commandment more than the first, “You shall have no other gods.” In fact, every law we break is also a breaking of the first, for if our hearts truly and wholly belonged to the Lord, we would keep the whole law. Because we do not fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, all things become opportunities for sin, including the gifts of sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives. Focus on the family can easily devolve into a mis-focus of gifts as gods.

We do not love these gifts less by loving Jesus more. Quite the contrary. The deeper our love for God, the deeper also shall be our love for our children. Love is the embodiment of a life lived in and for another. Love toward children or parents or spouses goes idolatrously wrong not when we love them too much, but when we love them too little. For how can love be true love when it stands against the God who is love itself? How can I say I love my child when I make him into an idol? How can I say I love my wife when I love her more than I love God? No, I am not loving too much when I’m committing idolatry; I’m loving too little, for it is the selfish, self-loving side of me that compels me toward the transformation of gifts into gods.

That is why my life constantly returns, indeed revolves around, the man from Nazareth who hangs between heaven and earth, painting the world white by bleeding wounds. There, in that dying God, I find not only the very incarnation of love, but forgiveness for all my self-love. In that God all my gods die. In Him I die. And as I lose my life, and His love finds me, I gain life in His giving love. I have no other gods besides Jesus Christ, because He is God of gods, Lord of lords, who deepens my love for Himself by pouring His love into me. And that love of Christ flows from me to others: to my children, to my wife, even to my enemies.

I will never be worthy of Christ, but Christ has counted me worthy by loving me even unto death, even death on a cross. "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing," (Revelation 5:12). Worthy is this Isaac, who carried His own wood to the mountaintop, where He was not spared but given up for us all, that all in Him might become the chosen sons of the Father. Worthy is He, and worthy are we in Him, to receive life and forgiveness and salvation and honor and heaven and blessing, now and forever, and unto ages of ages.

A Life Worth Living: A Tribute to My Father

A man becomes a man by imitation of his father. There are other influences in a boy’s life, but none greater, or of more lasting consequence, than his dad. A father makes many choices in his life—the woman he marries, the career he pursues, the skills he fosters.  But I remain convinced no decision matters more than what kind of man he will be to his children.  They are his legacy.  And if in the twilight years of a man’s life, he can look back and say, not that he has been a perfect father, but that he has been all the father he can be, then he will have lived a life worth living. Dad, for over four decades of your seventy-two years, you have been a father to me.  I have no other, nor have I ever desired another.  Like any man, I am full of weakness and strength, good and bad, but the strength residing in me, and the good I possess, I attribute to you.  You shared stories from your own life, and the lives of others, from which I learned what to avoid, and what to embrace.  The silent witness of your deeds has spoken volumes, and taught me more, than any university degree.  Though I could never detail all the gifts of character I have learned from you, these three stand out, above all others, as the legacy you have bestowed.

From you, Dad, I learned that a man is truly a man when, as Ecclesiastes says, whatever his hand finds to do, he does it with all his might (9:10).  At every job I’ve had, from a roofer to a pastor to a driver, people have remarked on how hard I work.  No one has ever called me lazy, nor will they, for I am your son.  I am not a workaholic, but when I labor, I labor from the heart—with diligence, energy, commitment to the best job I can do.  Work is, in a sense, a sacred task, given by God.  And in working hard we give glory to the One who, even before sin entered the world, gave Adam work to do in Eden.

From you, Dad, I learned that a man keeps going forward, even when he may want to give up.  I have gone through some painfully dark times in my life—and life being what it is, will probably go through more—but I have never stopped pressing forward to what lies ahead.  Perhaps we are both simply stubborn, and refuse to quit for that reason, but I believe it is something more, something deeper, and better.  It is hope.  You have never given up on me, never gave me a reason to doubt that I would make it through my darkness, no matter what.  And that hope has kindled more hope, and lasting hope, within me.

From you, Dad, I learned that our God is a good, loving Father.  From childhood I have known the Holy Scriptures, as Paul did (2 Timothy 3:15), for you took me to Sunday School, sat beside me in church, prayed at every meal, and witnessed in countless ways that God is good.  My faith may not be able to move mountains, but it moves me forward through valleys of the shadow of death, moves me to love others, and moves me again and again into the arms of the Savior whose love, and sacrifice, I first learned from you.

A true, loving father is a gift every child desperately needs.  I have had, and still have that, in you.  And I pray that I may be the same for Luke and Auriana.  That, like you, I too may live a life truly worth living.

Image

Image

My father, Carson Bird, and yours truly, 1970, in Jal, NM.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall: Jesus and the "Bad" Samaritan Woman

Jesus never does get His drink of water. He asks for one, from our not-so-puritan friend, Ms. Samaritan. Give me a drink. Not a lot to ask from the lady. Still, even at the story’s end, His whistle’s not wet. But that’s okay, because our Savior is always more interested in giving than in receiving. He asks for what we should be asking for. Give me a drink. It’s His not-so-subtle way of reminding us that we don’t know what we need until He tells us. We beg Him for salt but He gives water, for a serpent but He hands over a fish. “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

“If you knew the gift of God.” If you knew that, nothing else would really matter, for you would have Him who is everything. Take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife; take they our Synod, seminary, congregation, salary; take what they may, they yet have nothing won, the living water ours remaineth. If you knew the gift of God, you would laugh at the pile of dung you have christened your “success.” If you knew the gift of God, you’d let the world damn you for your five husbands and the five hundred other skeletons you’ve crammed into your closet, for you have acceptance in the husband who won’t let you go, who’s burned your skeletons to ashes in the flames of His love. If you knew the gift of God, you’d reject all the poison the bartender from Hades tries to shove your way; you’d slake your thirst in one place: in the fountain of living water, cascading from the side of the upraised body of the temple destroyed for you, but rebuilt in three days.

For One greater than Jacob is here. That patriarch worked seven, nay, fourteen years to gain his lovely Rachel. But our Jacob worked harder, worked longer, worked to death, to wed those made so ugly by sin that they make homely Leah seem a trophy bride. He labored to gain Ms. Samaritan, Gomer, Jezebel, and you, their twin sisters, as His wife. Our Jacob loved this church and gave Himself up for her, that He might beautify her, having cleansed her by the washing of living waters that issued from the new and better Eden.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? You are, who are flesh of flesh and bone of bone with Jesus, our Jacob. You who drink from the well of salvation He dug with His own hands. You who dine at His table and drink from His cup. You to whom our Jacob has pledged His undying love and fidelity. You are the fairest of them of all, for His kisses of grace have healed your scars, brightened your eyes, transformed you from a beast to a beauty.

So come with me, my fellow Samaritans, and let us ask this Jew for His living waters. He knows what it means to thirst.

P.S. This unnamed Samaritan woman, after her conversation with Jesus at the well (John 4), went back into town and told her fellow citizens about Jesus, saying, "He told me all the things I have done." As a result, "many of the Samaritans believed in Him." They testified, "This one is indeed the Savior of the world." Later tradition named this woman Photini, which means "enlightened one." She tirelessly told and retold the story of Jesus, not only in her hometown, but also in Carthage, where she traveled to carry on the work of evangelism. During the persecution of Christians under Nero, she spoke to Gospel to Nero's daughter, who became a Christian. She died the death of a martyr, by Nero's hand, in A.D. 66.

The Wife Who Gave Up: Mrs. Job’s Beautifully Untrue Words

I’m glad I didn’t live in Bible times. If I’d been around during Moses’ day, somewhere in Exodus you’d probably read, “And when Chad ben Carson didst give plenteously of his treasures for the making of the golden calf, the Lord God Jehovah didst smite him.” In Noah's day I’d have guffawed at that loony old fart’s landlocked boat. And in Jesus’ day I’d have out-prayed and out-boasted the Pharisee who thanked God that he wasn’t like other men.

Believe you me, it’s bad enough that lots of people know my sins in this life. If I’d lived in Bible times, my stupid words and deeds might have been inked into the best selling book of all time.

Like Job’s wife. Oh, I feel for her. Before tragedy struck her family, who knows, she may have doted on her husband, cherished her children, been just as sweet as sweet can be. But when God allowed Satan to systematically destroy everything she loved, she lost it. At her wits’ end. Who wouldn’t be? So as she spots her husband squatting on the ash heap, festooned with oozing boils, she’s had it. “Do you still hold fast your integrity?” she asks. “Curse God and die!”

Of all the words this woman ever spoke, these alone are chiseled forever into the stone of holy writ, and into the church’s memory. Mrs. Job becomes the patron saint of quick-tongued women.

What can we learn from her words? I suppose we could use her as an object lesson for the ills inflicted by the tongue. Or perhaps, in a fit of creativity, we could extrapolate from this dialogue the challenges faced by husbands and wives. But I think the lesson here is much more valuable than either of these:  that the words of Job's wife are beautifully untrue.

What if Job had heeded his wife’s advice? What if he’d decided enough was enough, said integrity be damned, and damned be God, too? There’s no guarantee lightning would have fallen from heaven and sizzled this sinner to ashes. Job may very well have gone on suffering, only now with a dead family, a shattered integrity, and a blasphemous moment from his past. You see, God is not so easily pushed to pull the trigger as Job’s wife assumed he was. He is—as the old King James so eloquently puts it—longsuffering.

I am living proof of that. Aren’t we all? “Do you still hold fast your integrity?” she asked Job. If she’d asked me, I’d have said, “No, I let it slip through my fingers long ago, many times. I’ve acted indecently, dishonestly. I am a man without integrity.” To Job she said, “Curse God and die,” but I have cursed God, and didn’t die. I’ve held up my middle finger to the heavens and spewed forth words that would make demons blush. I’ve blamed him, hated him, castigated him—and all this I did, when only I was to blame for the sufferings I endured.

And I’m alive today. What I did was unforgiveable, but God forgave me anyway. What I said was unpardonable, but my longsuffering Lord pardoned me anyway. He forgave me because a man stood in my place who did hold fast his integrity. He held it fast even as he himself was fastened to a beam of torture. The Lord pardoned my damnable speech because that man was cursed, indeed, became a curse for me (Gal 3:13), that in him, I might be blessed by his Father.

I may very well have gone on suffering, with a broken family, a shattered integrity, and a blasphemous time from my past. But my God would have none of that, for his bleeding and dying and rising love is a medicine that heals every single wound on the soul of man.

Today, Ash Wednesday, as a smidgen of the ash heap upon which Job sat is crisscrossed onto our skin, let us remember and give thanks for Job’s wife. Her words are beautifully untrue, for the forgiving and saving words of Jesus are truth and life.