One of my weekly news periodicals, The Week, reviews a book in this week’s March 2 issue. The book is entitled 30 Lessons for Living, Tried-and-True Advice from the Wisest Americans, by Carl Pillemer. The article previewed eight lessons from the book; one of them was by the 80-year-old Eugene Earnhart, “Honor your vows.” He wrote, “She was a wonderful wife; I could never make it up to her. Even to the end, I was unfaithful. Fidelity wasn’t there, it’s hard for me to say this, and sometimes I get really depressed about it, but I tell people, don’t do what I did, faithfulness is one of the most important things that people should cling to.” What was surprising to me was that instead of featuring someone who had been faithful, that lesson featured someone who had been haunted by infidelity.
Today’s Psalm 51 has been attributed to King David after he was caught in lust with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of his generals. Do you remember the story from second Samuel chapter 11? King David saw Bathsheba bathing, arranged an affair with her, and she became pregnant. In an effort to hide her pregnancy David arranged for her husband Uriah to return home from battle. After Uriah did not want to weaken himself for battle and refused to be with his wife, David made another plan and arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle so Bathsheba could be David’s wife. How did this happen to the one who wrote Psalm 23? The new interpreter’s Bible reflects: “Those possessed of power and surrounded by admirers and supporters often succumb to the illusion that they are in control of their own destiny and can define the terms of the morality that governs their actions. David experienced the limits of his power and control. He could not control Bathsheba’s pregnancy, Uriah’s principles, or God’s moral judgment. One can hardly consider this a word limited in application to an ancient king when our own news has been filled in recent years with stories of politicians, clergy, military officers, and teachers guilty of sexual misconduct and manipulation of others for the sake of self-interest. In many of these instances, abuses were committed under the illusion that the authority of their office, rank, or influence would protect them. The tragedy of lives undone and accomplishments overshadowed by acts committed under such illusion of power is an almost weekly story in our communities and nation. The story of David’s adultery and murder reminds us of the deadly spiral of violence that can escalate from a single sinful act. For David, an initial act born of lust led to an elaborate and deceitful attempt to cover up and finally to murder. Perhaps the traumas of our lives are not always on this grand scale, but we should not imagine that because we have stopped short of murder that this is not our story.”
The fact that this story of a fallen hero was included in the Bible reminds us that it is our story. After reading a story like this, one would expect that the seriousness of lust would never take us by surprise, but somehow it does. After reading how lust can lead to adultery, betrayal, and even murder, one might think that the destructive power of lust would never be underestimated, but somehow it is. We feel that we can fight lust and its effects, but Scripture tells us in I Corinthians 6:18, don’t just try to fight it, it is so dangerous that we need to “Flee from it!” Get away from it. It may sound manageable in other terms, for instance, when the word adultery is called an affair, or a fling, or that it is a private matter, or that it is between consenting adults, those words sound much softer, but they carry the same devastating consequences no matter how the words are said. Lust can destroy families. It can tear a career apart. It can poison the soul inside and out, and shatter a life into 1 million pieces, and just like David, we can be lulled into following a path that leads to destruction.
Dr. Ronald Peters writes in “The Uriah Factor”: “Even today, our cultural obsession with famous sports icons, celebrities in entertainment, business and financial barons, politicians, pollsters, political pundits, headliners on CNN, Fox, MSNBC, People magazine, or the Wall Street Journal, and other news venues becomes the stuff of our personal conversations and opinions of life. On Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, preoccupations can begin to reflect ideals, values, and even moral decisions of so-called trendsetters and opinion makers. These values are so prevalent, even among many we view as cultural powerbrokers and trendsetters, King David type newsmakers in society, that we come to view selfishness, insensitivity to others, or greed as normal. Often it seems that all we can do, the rest of us ordinary people or little people and society, is fall in line or go along with the flow, although at some deep level within, we know that things ought to be different.”
As in the case of King David, when lust breaks in and confuses love, the outcome is beyond traumatic to all. Love on its own is such a beautiful thing. Love can have an even more intense passion then lust because with love there is passion but also friendship, empathy, sympathy, and care for the other. William White, a Lutheran minister, wrote: “Love never ends, Paul writes in first Corinthians. Lust, on the other hand, has no lasting quality. Whereas love is a marathon runner, lust runs the 10 yard dash. Lust is based on desire, not commitment. It originates in the loins, not the heart. Love endures all things, lust endures very little… There is something sad when a mass of people confuse sex and love. Our national obsession with sex trivializes it. Rather than making sex more important, it makes it cheaper. When lust replaces love, fidelity and commitment are pushed aside. Lust is a misplaced effort to find that which is enduring. Malcolm Muggeridge has written, “today people have sex on their minds, which if you think of it is a rather strange place to have it.”
I’ve heard the analogy of sexual passion being like the power of electricity. It can enlighten a house and be healthy, or it can be as dangerous as a live wire, that left uninsulated, and unchecked can be deadly, affecting everyone in the home. Is it the job of the church to remind husbands and wives to be faithful to one another, not to cheat on one another, to reserve their sexual energy for the other, and preserve the integrity of their marriage and intimacy? Absolutely! After all, God created marriage and gave the desire of attraction in order for humanity to procreate and, as the Bible says, to help one another. The bond of marriage can be the most beautiful partnership because it involves the emotional, spiritual, and physical connections, and those connections can grow stronger in time. When sexual energy is kept within the fidelity of marriage, there is the possibility of a family, God’s idea for the ordering of society and home, to be a place where children are nurtured and taught God’s healing power. In the seventh commandment, God calls us to be faithful in marriage, and that faithfulness affects the whole family unit. God wants marriages to be stable not only for the couple’s sake, but to make the family the stable foundation that it was intended to be. Have you ever noticed bricks that need re-pointing? Fidelity is the mortar that holds together the bricks of marriage. A husband and wife need regular, open, mutual communication in order to keep an eye on that mortar. Sometimes the mortar needs to be checked, re-pointed, and reinforced.
When busy singles meet with me before their wedding ceremony, they are eager for tools to keep their intimacy alive. One of the first steps I suggest is to schedule a date night every week. At first they don’t understand that since almost every night is a date night. Yet eventually, work-related travel, meetings, babies, activities, or life’s demands compete. Couples may need to schedule time together to avoid weeks slipping by without sharing and deep conversation. Once after meeting with a couple, I went home to my wife Christine and said, “I just told a young couple to schedule date nights, and I realized that we are doing great. We’ve been out so much the past few weeks.” “Yes,” she answered, “we’ve been to the fundraising party, the benefit, the gala, the church dinner, the cocktail party, but we haven’t been out alone in weeks.” She was right. The point is not just going out, but being intentional about making a connection and checking that mortar.
One lesson we can learn from David is that no one is immune from the danger of adultery. In seminary a preacher from a large church in New York City was involved in a sex scandal. The whole campus was shocked. I told a professor that I couldn’t believe it happened, and the professor poked me in the chest with his finger and said, “Why don’t you believe it? That can happen to anyone, even you, so watch out!” A 1993 article in the Journal of Business Ethics (not a religious journal) entitled “The Bathsheba Syndrome- The Ethical Failure of Successful Leaders,” underscored that fact: “Look at the list of men and women who have fallen victim to these violations. Very often they are not individuals sitting in the middle of a competitive pressure cooker, making miscalculations in the heat of battle. Nor are they necessarily ‘destructive achievers,’ individuals devoid of operational principles who have climbed to the top in brutal pursuit of personal achievement. Far too often the leaders who have been accused and convicted of violations are men and women of generally strong principle who have built careers based more on service than self-gratification. In short, too many of the perpetrators of the violations we have recently witnessed are men and women of strong personal integrity and intelligence- men and women who have climbed the ladder through hard work and ‘keeping their noses clean.’ But just at the moment of seemingly ‘having it all,’ they have thrown it all away by engaging in an activity which is wrong, which they know would lead to their downfall if discovered, and which they mistakenly believe they have the power to conceal. This, in essence, is what we have labeled the Bathsheba Syndrome.”
The authors referred to the story of David, saying that, “David, in short, chose to do something he knew was clearly wrong in the firm belief that through his personal power and control over resources he could cover up. David’s inflated, self-confident belief in his own personal ability to manipulate the outcome … is probably representative of the attitude of many of today’s professionally trained managers of business. Trained in attitude and technique to ‘get things done’ and ‘make things happen,’ today’s business school graduates often possess a dangerously inflated self confidence. Reinforced by success, given increasing control over resources and subjected to decreasing levels of supervision, these managers too often stumble as they move into leadership roles.” David lost touch during that stroll on the rooftop of his palace that day he spied Bathsheba. He lost touch with his family. He lost touch with his role as a moral leader in the community- he put aside all thoughts of Bathsheba’s family and how he was affecting her family. He put aside the laws of God- losing touch with his faith and finding a dark journey of adultery, deceit, and murder. David was successful, but he had isolated himself and started moving in the wrong direction.
The Bathsheba Syndrome stated that successful people, “…lose their ability to be satisfied with their current status and they desire more of everything…They can experience personal isolation and a lack of intimacy in their lives. Inability to share their problems and long hours away from home can cause leaders to be isolated from their families and friends, losing a valuable source of balance. In addition leaders find themselves without peers at work and can find making friends at work difficult. Many of these leaders literally lose touch with reality… At the same time leaders can experience the ‘emptiness syndrome,’ – after working hard for years and finally ‘making it,’ they take a step back and ask themselves, ‘is this all there is to success?’ They have success but they don’t experience it on a personal level which can cause them to seek other ways to satisfy their needs.”
Every marriage should look for ways to stay strong. If you have a weak marriage, avoid rationalizations to be unfaithful when things get difficult, such as, “my wife/husband doesn’t understand me,” or “we’ve drifted apart.” The love which brought you together can be refreshed! If you have a healthy marriage, continue to keep the bond strong, but do not let your guard down as David did. If you have committed adultery, ask God’s forgiveness and embark upon a new path. Your spouse may not forgive you, but God will. Jesus wrote on the ground and said to the crowd, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” As the crowd dropped their stones and dispersed, the woman caught in adultery was saved and Jesus told her, “Neither do I condemn you, go, and sin no more.” If you are in a new marriage, I hope you listened to this sermon. Do not underestimate the power of lust. It can replace the values of faith with the values of culture. It can isolate and lure anyone into a false sense of security. Instead, secure fidelity’s power as the mortar to hold the family together.