It was the closing question a few weeks ago, when hanging out with friends:
"When is it ok for your spouse to sleep with someone else?"
Having had an hour of discussion on the topic already, we all knew the answer. The question, by that time, had become rehtorical. But in that turn of phrase, everything we had just talked about became more real. Sometimes, we have to say the words, verbalize the thoughts, and put things into their proper context in order to really grasp the truth inherant in a situation.
So... when is it ok for your spouse to sleep with someone else?
You see, our group had been discussion the lives of Abram and Sarai, two key figures in the Jewish and Christain faith. Abram could be famous for any number of things: for having his own elite fighting force, for being the first recorded circumcision, or for having the intestinal fortitude to negotiate with God. But Abram is most famous for being the father of the Israelite nation, with offspring as numerous as the sand in the desert.
(silly YouTube video for humor's sake... because this post gets pretty serious.)
In the book of Genesis, we start Abram's story at the age of 75. From the beginning, God directly communicates with Abram and tells him he will make a nation from Abram and that Abram's offspring will inherit land. In other words, even though he didn't have any children yet, he was going to have some.
In Genesis 11:17 we get introduced to Abram. 15 verses lates, he is travelling to Egypt with his wife, Sarai - who at this time was 66. And here is where it gets weird. Abram think that his 66 year old wife is so smoking hot that when the Egyptians see her, they will kill him to take her. So he decides to tell them she is his sister, and leave out the whole "wife" thing.
So, because she isn't married, the Egyptians take her to Pharoh. Where she becomes a part of his harem. And Pharoh liked her so much, that he gave Abramn donkeys, slaves, and camels.
Now... I get it. I didn't live back them. I'm not a big giant scholar and don't fully understand what all is going on here. But I find it hard to believe that this sort of thing was (a) acceptable or (b) made Sarai happy. I really don't think my wife would be very happy if I said:
"Hey Ashley... you are so beautiful that men are going to kill me to get you. So instead, let's pretend we're not married and I'll take a bunch of gifts in exchange for you sleeping in another man's household.."
Of course, Pharoh gave Sarai back to Abram after he figured it all out, and our story continues. God tells Abram he'll have offspring twice more. But Sarai isn't getting any younger... and tell Abram to sleep with her slave, Hagar, so that she can give him a son.
I mean, really, there's got to be something going on here culturally that just doesn't click with me. I guess this was just ok back then. And she does get pregnant.
Fast forward another 13 years, and Abram is now 99. God renames him Abraham, and renames Sarai to Sarah. And God must have been a bit frustrated, because this time He gets very specific:
15 God said to Abraham, “As for your wife Sarai, do not call her Sarai, for Sarah will be her name. 16 I will bless her; indeed, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she will produce nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” [Genesis 17:15-16 HCSB] http://msb.to/Gn17:15
And guess what happens, a few verses later?
1 From there Abraham traveled to the region of the •Negev and settled between Kadesh and Shur. While he lived in Gerar, 2 Abraham said about his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech king of Gerar had Sarah brought to him. [Genesis 20:1-2 HCSB] http://msb.to/Gn20:1
Again, Abraham!?! By this time in our group's discussion, I think we all had lost it. Emotionally, walking the lives of these characters, everything simply had to be a wreck. To be so close with God that He literally swings by to say hello while he's on his way to destroy a few towns, yet so far from understanding the plan God has.
I mean... yes, hindsight is 20/20. We know the end of the story, so we can look and tell Abraham to just hold on! God said he's going to give you offspring from Sarah - He said so in direct communication with you! It's kind of not possible for that to happen if you're dead... so you don't have to offer your somking hot 90 year old wife to a stranger you just met.
I really, really hope that Sarah's love language was a strong "words of affirmation." I mean, clearly, Abraham thought she was just something else in the looks department and had a strange way of telling her so.
At the age of 90, Sarah gets pregnant from Abraham, and their son's name is Isaac. And from there the story goes on to the building of the Jewish race, Abraham's many sons.
But what a way to get there. God constantly communicating with you to trust Him - that He has a plan to make a whole nation from your offspring. Yet being so scared for your own life that you would rather avoid an awkard (and, sure, potentially dangerous) situation by thinking that letting your spouse sleep with a stranger is the answer.
To be so close to God's plan for your life... but to bumbling around in fear, misunderstanding, disappointment... whatever it was that Abraham was going though. It was mind boggling to us. We are so often completely desparate for any kind of confirmation from God. We say we would be so dramatically changed if we heard just an audible whisper from God. One small token of affirmation.
And Abram, a man who got to have full conversations with God, thinks the best decision is to give his wife to other men. Sarah, a woman who got to have a full conversation with God, to laugh at his audacity to give her a child at such an old age, thought it best at one point to take matters into her own hands by trying to build Abram's lineage through her own slave.
Faith, no matter what proof or reassurance we have, still take faith.
So there we are in our little community group, having spent an hour talking about Abraham's life. We're talking about our lives, sharing how we can pray for one another. And one lady in our group mentions struggling with a decision - a decision that she feels confident God is pointing her in one specific direction.
"When is it ok for your spouse to sleep with someone else?"
When is it ok to ignore God's best? When is it ok with to take the safest road for yourself, no matter the real and long-term consquences? When is it ok take take matters into your own hands and try to make your own, misguided future?
But here's what I love about this story. Here is where I get so in awe of our God, so amazed by His love, and so humbled by how little grace I have to give out.
He still followed through with His promise. He still gave Abraham and Sarah a child, even after she laughed. Even after they tried to make their own way. Even after Abraham wanted safety.
God still loved. He made good on His promises. It's the only way He knows how to be.
And, just in case I didn't make it clear: it's not ok for your spouse to sleep with somone else. You already know that. It's not ok to sleep with someone who isn't your spouse. You already know that, too.
But there is a God who is full of grace. Know that, seek Him out. You'll be amazed at His love every single day.