Saturday, June 23, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (12)

No backlink on the following, for obvious reasons; you can do your own research on this one.

The Ashley Madison Agency claims, among other things:
  • Over 50 million married men in the United States are currently cheating on their wives.
  • About 50 percent of cheating husbands have multiple affairs.
  • More than 50% of unfaithful husbands witnessed their fathers cheat on their mothers.
(Bear in mind Ashley Madison profits off maximizing infidelity. They are hardly likely to understate the case while urging you to utilize their services.)

John Grohol at PsychCentral, on the other hand, claims cheating is not nearly as common as we are led to believe. In any given year, he says, the actual likelihood of your relationship suffering from cheating is less than 6 percent.

Anecdotally, I can only say I have met a lot of people who have been terribly hurt by infidelity over the years. It ain’t rare, and there’s good reason for it to be addressed at length in Proverbs. It’s a major problem in our society, and it was undoubtedly a serious concern in Israel.

6. Wisdom Applied: Warnings Against Adultery (Proverbs 5:1-23)

This is not the only passage in Proverbs that deals with adultery and its consequences, but it is the first significant one, and divides neatly into three main sections.

The Adulteress

Such a woman is deceptive, destructive, deadly … and ultimately, yes, dull, as many men who strayed have eventually discovered. A woman of pristine character with widely desirable personal assets does not generally fall into your arms. The adulteress, on the other hand, promises what she cannot deliver and delivers what she has not promised, to your great regret. She leads you down a road that will ruin every aspect of your life, and she does it without fully comprehending her own part in the drama or understanding the havoc she has unleashed. She is not even sufficiently morally alert to wish for her own redemption. Her conscience does not function properly:
“For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol; she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it.”
I’m not sure this describes the sort of woman Jesus reached out to at the well in Samaria, despite the fact that she had had many men in her life and in her bed. I’m not sure it even describes every woman who has sold herself for sex throughout history, though that is surely an exceedingly degraded profession.

This is worse somehow. This sort of woman is more deceiver than mere merchant, luring married men into long-term illicit relationships through which she can exploit them to her own benefit, presumably betraying her own husband repeatedly in the process. This is the forbidden affair that masquerades as the fulfillment of all your romantic desires, but instead turns out to be the undoing of everything good in your life.

The Consequences

A couple I knew flushed close to $300,000 of assets into our toilet of a legal system fighting over custody and property in the aftermath of one such affair. Every stranger they met “took his fill of their strength”, from lawyers to judges to mediators to clerks and accountants, sometimes to the tune of over $10,000 for a single day in court. In the end, the ex-wife had to move back in with her parents and the ex-husband found himself working for minimum wage 1,000 miles away from his daughter.

Or, as Solomon put it:
“Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless, lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner.”
One of the sad corollaries of adultery today is that the wronged ex-partner often experiences much the same social and financial hardship as the sinner.

In fact, this is one of those sections of scripture that makes you wonder if it was primarily intended prophetically. If anything, it seems more relevant in today’s hyper-litigious culture than at any time in history. It’s a little harder to picture how Solomon’s words might have applied to Israelite princes almost 3,000 years ago, in a society in which many might have been financially able to buy their way out of any drama their dalliances with married women might create.

So, yeah, there’s some way these words applied to life in Israel that I’m missing here, perhaps arising out of the Law of Moses. Maybe it will come to me as we work our way through Proverbs. Solomon has a great deal more to say on this subject. It is the most well developed bit of advice he gives young men in the entire book.

The Alternative

The third and last section of the chapter is quite the revelation. Here comes Solomon, husband to 700 wives and sometime partner of 300 concubines, with some relationship advice, which turns out to be — wait for it — monogamy.

Monogamy???? Say what?
“Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets?”

“Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth.”
No, not just monogamy: enthusiastic, devoted monogamy.

For what it’s worth, I actually have these same cognitive dissonance issues with Song of Songs. Many of its passages enthuse so vividly about the glories of a particular woman that it’s almost possible to overlook the glaring historical reality that Solomon had a buffet of nearly 1,000 available to be tomorrow’s “beloved”. I can only read the book as the product of immense, highly ironic, Spirit-led creativity.

This, however, is another story; not fiction or allegory, but hard-nosed advice: “Son, do it the way God intended from the beginning,” with what I can only assume is a big, silent helping of “Not the way I did it.”

Um ... What About Women?

The chapter would hardly be complete without us stopping to note what it does not contain: any instructions for girls. This, folks, is all about the men. Oh, we can make the near-obligatory modern argument that Israelite society was patriarchal and deeply misogynous if we insist, but perhaps we’d be better off giving some thought to what Solomon’s warning really tells us about the potential for evil in women: it is one of the most powerful destabilizing forces in any society.

The man in this scenario is led around by the nose, like a sheep to the slaughter. That’s just pathetic. The woman, while ignorant of the long-term consequences or the full moral implications of her actions, is actually calling the shots. Yet at no point is there any suggestion in Proverbs that this sort of behavior is characteristic of women generally, or even particularly common. Certainly, there is no indication that it ends any more happily for her than it ends for him.

Relationships based on lies, characterized by exploitation and lack of self-awareness, and which can only be enabled and maintained through further fabrications and complete secrecy are bound to unwind spectacularly at some point. As Solomon concludes, “a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord.” Disaster is more than inevitable; it’s absolutely just.

No rational, moral woman wants to be a part of that.

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