Psalm 55:1–8; Job 31; 1 Corinthians 7:1–16

Psalm 55:1–8: As soon as we hear the opening line, “Hearken, O God, to my prayer,” we know this is a psalm of supplication. We also learn that it’s not impolite to ask God to “not [to] ignore my plea,/ Listen well to me and amswer me.” Sometimes, I think we are hesitant and afraid of offending God, but as the psalmists and certainly Job remind us, God the Creator cannot be offended by his creatures.

Our supplicant is in above his head: “In my complain I sway and moan./ From the sound of the enemy…when they bring mischief down upon me/ and in fury harass me.” (4) Unlike many of us who find ourselves in desperate circumstances, our psalmist is not afraid to admit his fear by using every verb he can think of to describe his terror: “my heart quails within me/ and death-terrors fall upon me,/ fear and trembling enter me/ and horror envelopes me.” (5,6)

There is only one thing he desires: to escape his present plight: “‘Would that I had wings like a dove./ I would fly off and find rest.” He speaks for all of us in fearful circumstances: let the enemy win; I don’t care; just get me out of here. Like him, I would “make haste to a refuge for me/ from the streaming wind and the storm.” (9)

For me, this means it’s OK to ask God for escape form our present difficulty. We do not have to tough it out. This is what those with newly-diagnosed diseases or stuck in abusive relationship need to hear. We/they don’t have to steel our courage and fight. It’s perfectly OK to ask God for escape. Sometimes escape is far preferable to courage.

Job 31: Job asks the question that we all ask when confronted with life’s unfairness: “Does not calamity befall the unrighteous,/ and disaster the workers of iniquity?” (3) Job again asserts his innocence, daring God to punish him if he’s been wicked: “let me be weighed in a just balance,/and let God know my integrity!” (6)

As if to remind God of his righteousness, Job catalogs his numerous righteous deeds. He has not committed adultery (7,8).  He has protected his wife form harm (10-12). He has been kind and just to his slaves (13-15). He has given to the poor, to the orphans (16-18). He has spurned the temptation of wealth (24-26). He has avoided self-aggrandizement and pride (26-28). He has not cursed others or “rejoiced at the ruin of those who hated me.” (29-32). He has been hospitable (32). He has been open and honest (33-34).

In the final paragraphs that Job speaks it seems he suddenly realizes what has happened in God’s silence. There is an “indictment written by [his] adversary” that he wishes he could see. Then he would know to whom to protest his innocence:

“36 I would carry it on my shoulder;
    I would bind it on me like a crown;
37 I would give him an account of all my steps;
    like a prince I would approach him.

If God has not done all these things to me, Job is saying, then allow me to appear before my accuser in God’s court and declare my innocence there. Exhausted, Job is silent and the poet tells us: “The words of Job are ended.” He can say no more as he throws himself on the mercy of God’s court.

1 Corinthians 7:1–16: Paul continues (and continues) about the problem of sexual morality and we encounter what modern culture views as one of Paul’s “difficult” passages: his definition of marriage: “each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” (2). However, and probably radically for his time, there is equality in the sexual relationship: “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.” (3) The man cannot have his way without the wife’s consent. In sexual union “he wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” (4)

Paul declares the superiority of being single over being married: “…I say by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am.” But at least he acknowledges that like celibacy, the desire for marriage is “a particular gift from God.” And it’s preferable to be married than to have extra-marital sex: “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” (9)

Then things get sticky. Neither husband nor wife should divorce each other. (11) Having written extensively about a pathological marriage, this is easier said than don–even by Paul.

We then encounter the infamous passage about believers being married to unbelievers. Paul seems optimistic here that “the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband.” (14) And if the unbeliever divorces, so be it. But what I don’t see here–although he may say it elsewhere–that a believer is forbidden to marry an unbeliever.

Nevertheless, I think this passage has ruined many relationships, especially when Christians fling the “unbeliever” epithet against other Christians, e.g. Protestants marrying Catholics. They have created a stumbling block where I honestly think Paul did not intend it to be one. If we look at this passage in the context of what has come before, Paul is attempting to tread carefully here about man-woman relationships. I don’t think he’s wholly successful, but I think he comes closer than those who see these issues in pure black and white terms and have torn these verses out of their context.

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