I am need of Rabbi in my study. Still wandering in the book of Genesis, Abraham denies his wife, Sarah, saying she is his sister, and she does the same, claiming to be his brother. Abraham concocted this scheme to keep himself self while they journeyed into other kingdoms. He believed he would be killed so that others could take his beautiful wife. And so it happened, when they were passing through the land of Gerar, Abimelech took Sarah.
Abimelech, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, is afforded a lesser status as merely a “king” and not one of the Judges of Israel. He had the same encounters with the Patriarch Issac as he did with the Patriarch Abraham above regarding deceit (representing their wives as their sisters and squabbles over well water). The Jewish Virtual Library states that critical scholars assign all these narratives to a variant of a single tradition. Without delving into Abimelech’s life, the themes in the Old Testament, the sources, and a greater depth of the interwoven nature of politics warring tribal disputes, and religious institutions as defined at that time, how could we ever pass any judgment or claim to understand of the bible?
I am dumbfounded that Abraham and Issac would present their wives as their sisters. I could see denying my wife to save her life, but not to save my own. Who knows what we would do if presented that awful choice should we be faced with forced migration due to natural disaster or war and encounter a terrible immoral choice. I say to you, not as a Jewish scholar or Christian mystic, but as an ordinary lay Christian, you face this choice every day.
Patriarch’s Abraham and Isaac denied their wives for their safety. To do so in their minds gave them an advantage in a disadvantageous situation where they lacked power in the face of greater forces. They did not rely on faith or on God to protect them.
On an individual level, you probably have not denied that your wife was your sister. On a simpler scale, however, you perhaps have been deceived by others and acted in a manner or supported things that were unfair or wrong. Abimelech took another man’s wife, but he was deceived. He was still wrong.
Suppose I support legal abortion as a Democrat for all the ethical reasons. There are many. I suspect I have been deceived as I have inherited a culture that devalues life with such overwhelming immensity that women are put in situations where they face an impossible choice. Our culture does not embrace or support the full integrity of all human beings. For some, having a baby will endanger their own lives or condemn to a life of poverty and struggle. I do not support abortion. But I am unwilling to be the judge of a woman who faces societal oppression and injustice where her life is devalued, and she decides that, in my view, is contrary to God’s law. I will fight for all life to be valued so that fewer women have to face this horrible choice, legally or illegally. How will I be judged?
Suppose as a Republican, and I support the death penalty, massive deportation, and economic policies that support my wealth at the expense of increasing world poverty and misery. I support these things with righteousness and good intentions. I must stand up for the rule of law, protect my family and our jobs from illegal immigration, and put our economy above other people’s lives or over other nations. I am right that all three of these issues present an “existential threat” to my well being and the well being of my friends and families. I suspect that I have been deceived here as well as I have inherited a culture that devalues the “other” and puts nationalism, wealth, and power ahead of humanity.
In both cases above (right and left), I am likely to accept the binary choices and choose a side. In both cases, I am inclined to make grave errors in intellectual honesty when I try to advance my righteous thinking and, in some cases, will make grave errors against humanity and my God. In both cases, I see the opposing views as existential threats to what I hold to be necessary. As Americans, we are not likely to own feeling existentially threatened. That requires serious insight and vulnerability that runs contrary to our culture.
When we are thinking right and left, we have probably already lost the battle of not being deceived and acting in a manner that supports evil. We can fall into a reactive position making choices within the well of rigid political and religious paradigms that, on closer examination, crumble under their hypocrisy. Logicalness and openness to facts go out the window. Ad Hominem attacks, a fancy word for attack the messenger, is a typical playbook on the political stage today. The press, scientists, and government servants are under ruthless attacks. People whose livelihoods and health are at stake are acting on misinformation and real threats to their lives that are no longer so existential.
People deny their faith, their political affiliation, their beliefs all the time when to do otherwise will cause the loss of what they cherish (material goods, status, friendship, employment, or merely uncomfortableness). Silence is denial as well.
I see this happen all the time in the workplace as people jockey for favor and position. The worst in humanity plays out every day: gossip, slander, lies, manipulation, and sometimes outright evil intent. These deceits can lead a righteous and well-meaning manager down a path of destroying a person’s career based on false information. Sometimes it plays out on the national level as well, and a whole nation can do harm globally. As our current President states, China hurt world health by limiting the magnitude of the pandemic issue. We, in turn, did the same thing, and to an extent, still are making the same errors.
We have in our midst pathological liars as well without our notice. They can be humble and friendly in the community or hold positions of great power in political, business or religious institutions.
Each of us is in our own way, Abimelech and Abraham. In our hectic and busy lives, we are driven by instinct and competitive values to ward off existential threats to our way of life. Hopefully, we are not driven by false information.
We are prone to error by being deceived or by acting out of fear for our safety and overall well-being, denying minor or major hypocrisies within our hearts and behaviors – by conscious public presentation or even merely silence and consent. My friend, you are damned.
That is not so encouraging! In my morning meditation, Richard Rohr discussed the “Bible as an Alternative History.” He stated the history of the terms “right and left” came from the Estates-General in France. On the left sat ordinary people and, on the right, sat the nobility and the clergy. The left represented mostly the poor and the oppressed and the right the status quo. His point was the left sought to reform, and the right sought to preserve their wealth, status, and power. Today we have the same dynamic with the buoy of the middle class torn between alliances, desiring the identity of nobility and the clergy without turning their backs on the poor and the oppressed. It is not a binary choice.
We need prophets for sure to guide us to transcend these binary choices and allegiances. The Old Testament is rife with Jewish prophets that struggled to transcend religious divisions and sects in favor of the “inner God experience and the outer work for justice and truth.” It gives us a history that we can learn from about the worst and best of humanity and spiritual lessons for interpretation today. The journey through the old testament is leading someplace both narratively and in real-time history. It evolved and was passed down to us from generation to generation.
As a Christian, I believe it bought us to Jesus Christ, the last of the prophets in my view. The New Testament captures his fulfillment of the Old testament and a road map on how to live a blessed and fulfilling life. Doing that, the same as in the old testament, is rife with conflict with rigid political and religious systems, existential threats to our survival and identity, deceitful actions of others, and selfish motivation.
In the next post – I will turn to Matthew chapters 6-8, which complimented my morning reading and provided for me at least a solution to feeling overwhelmed and damned. I have some thoughts that deserve their own post. However, I cannot leave you with you are damned!
Within you lies a higher self that can transcend adversity, deceit, pain, and worry. It can bring out your inner strength and peace even when you fail. It can allow you to share and love others around you more magnificently than ever before. Also, if you have this already, and you are blessed if you do, it can always be more profound and more vigorous with every breath you take.
Transcending the self is never easy regardless of your spiritual or existential orientation – but it is worth the journey. How Abraham and Abelimech bought me here I cannot say, but the mystery of life lessons can humble us all. Find some time to still the world’s business and gently notice your “existential fears,” jot them down, name them, and put them aside for later. Contemplate whatever you appreciate right now. have gratitude for what you have and if someone special to you is close by, give them gratitude as well. When the time is right, pick up one of those existential threats and simply think about three things that you can do that may minimize or help with that worry. Make a plan to do those three things and enlist help if you can. Give the rest to God and ask for the strength and peace to be able to handle what comes next. Try not to tell people your wife is your sister to others or some other avoidance behavior! You will have an easier path if you defeat avoidance behaviors and avoid supporting fallacies you know to be wrong.