Humans, it seems, are in search of perfect role models. We love heroes. In fact, a mere hero isn’t sufficient any more, what we want are superheroes. And for Christians, where better to find heroes and even superheroes than in the Bible? Except, well, when you actually start looking for superheroes in the Bible, they are hard to find.
In fact, one of the amazing things about the people in the Bible is how human- and by human I mean flawed- people in the Bible are. You don’t have to read very much or for too long to find people behaving badly. Honestly there’s almost too many examples to choose from. This past week at Westminster Reads we read part of the story of Abram, Sari and Hagar. You can read the story here.
It is a story where absolutely no one behaves well. Hagar, a slave, is “given” to Abram by Sarai. She is given to him for sex, to become pregnant. While this was not uncommon in the ancient world, it was a terrible practice. But becoming pregnant with Abram’s heir does give Hagar some status and some security. It also seems to give Hagar, at least from Sarai’s point of view, an attitude problem.
Sarai thinking she has solved the problem of no heirs discovers this transaction, the “gift” of her slave to Abram, is more emotionally difficult than she had imagined. She is jealous and upset and acts harshly toward Hagar.
Meanwhile, Abram who in this culture is supposed to be in charge of his wife and her slave shirks his responsibility. He is supposed to keep order and peace in his large family. It appears he doesn’t want to be in the middle of this dispute. We’ve already seen Abram’s tendency to avoid conflict in Genesis 12. Not the most sensitive, empathetic guy in the Ancient Near East.
These are the people God enters into covenant with- prideful, jealous, avoidant, insecure, abused, and abusing. Yes, Father Abraham and Mother Sarah, these are not the heroes we were looking for.
Never the less, God takes care of each of them and keeps God’s promises to them, regardless of whether they deserve it or not. This is actually one of the big themes of the Bible, God’s steadfast love for all of us- always, no matter what. Notice- not dependent on our behavior, not able to be earned or deserved.
Which makes me wonder why we are so harsh with each other. I’m not suggesting we ignore bad behavior but how should we respond? God doesn’t toss people away after a mistake- or even after a few mistakes, so why do we?
We know we are not supposed to toss people away but we do it anyway, mostly I think, because it is hard work not to do that. Looking at the story of the Flood, I suspect it can be difficult even for God. But God perseveres and so should we.
We’ll keep reading to see how Abram, Sarai, and Hagar and God work this out. And we’ll keep living and see how God works this out with us.