Skip to comments.The Rev. Samuel Edwards: "On Adultery"
Posted on 03/08/2006 6:56:57 PM PST by sionnsar
From the Rev. Samuel Edwards of the Anglican Church of the Holy Comforter in Alabama, here is his next sermon in a series on the Ten Commandments:
Sermon on the First Sunday in Lent (2006)As Rev. Edwards says, "none of us is free of the taint of infidelity"--how merciful is our Lord to be so forgiving. Truly this sermon is fit for this penitential season of Lent!
Countdown to Godliness
Sermon IV. On Adultery
God spake these words and said, Thou shalt not commit adultery.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
It is remarkable how terse some of the Commandments are in their original language. The one we consider today is a case in point. What takes five words in English takes but two in Hebrew. These are quite literally rendered, No adultery. This allows for no nuances and no exceptions. It has all the definition and subtlety of a brick. It can be comprehended by anyone in his right mind and probably by most who are not.
This commandment, like all of the latter commandments, has to do with behavior that is essential to maintaining what philosophers call the good life, both as a person and in a society. It prohibits sexual relations between any persons who are not husband and wife. The prohibition includes what is often separately labeled fornication. (Any interpretation that denies this can be assumed to be rooted in ignorance, or in pettifogging special pleading, or both.) The substance of this commandment is a constant element of the universally-perceived moral law that C. S. Lewis calls the Tao and of which he writes in his small but monumental book, The Abolition of Man. The prohibition against adultery is a precept without which no civilization can rise and be sustained, and only societies in decay tolerate and excuse its violation.
This does not bode well for our society as a whole. We would recognize the enjoyment of bloody gladiatorial contests by the ancient Romans as the sign of a fundamental inhumanity that underlay the outward glory of this great civilization and that eventually contributed to its downfall. It is obvious that murder had been elevated to the level of entertainment, especially for those fortunate enough not to be in the arena.
The mystery is why it is that we cannot recognize that our society has done precisely the same thing with adultery: It has been elevated to the level of entertainment, especially for those fortunate enough not to be in the arena. Look at the apparent popularity of supermarket tabloids, page 2A of the Birmingham News, daytime soap operas, nighttime offerings such as Desperate Housewives, and the apparent obsession of a large segment of our population with the marital and extramarital misbehaviors of the celebrity set. Look at the even darker fact that the manufacture and sale of pornography is a growth industry that represents the wastage of billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives, and untold hours of the irreplaceable and non-renewable resource of time, and that it is strongest in those societies which, in spite of their vaunted openness and outward prosperity, are experiencing high levels of family crisis, social dysfunction, and declining birth rates.
But, say some, all these things are really matters that relate to individual privacy. This is an opinion founded on nonsense. We do not typically recognize the nonsense because we have as a society bought into the individualistic notion that there is such a thing as absolute privacy. There is not. It is impossible. The reason for this is rooted in our very nature as human beings: Made as we are in the image of a tripersonal God, we are inescapably social. There is no moral choice that we can make that has a merely personal effect. We imagine, we choose, we act. The act lays the foundation for a habit, or builds upon one already there. The habit is part of the framework of our character. Our personal character is a building block of the character of our society as a whole. The character of that society further reinforces and influences, for better or for worse, the character of each of its members. There is no choice that we can make that does not have an impact on those among whom we live.
What is the solution? The first response of most people who acknowledge that there is a problem is something like, Well, there ought to be a law! However, no law will do any good in the long run if the heart of the people is corrupt. Any law that does not express a fundamental moral conviction and consensus will actually aggravate the problem it attempts to solve. In the absence of converted hearts, there is no problem so bad that it cannot be made much worse by state involvement and other sorts of external imposition.
We imagine, we consent to the imagination, and out of that choice we act. This is why Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter in his amplification of the Law during the Sermon on the Mount when he says, Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. Jesus exposition of the complete meaning of this commandment clearly means that imaginary sex is proscribed, because it makes of the imaginary sexual partner a mere object. This habituates the one who does the imagining to treating persons as means to his own selfish ends ends which finally prove to be not only selfish but barren.
We may not be able to control the thoughts and images that come knocking on the door of our hearts, but we do have some choice whether we will open the door and invite them to come in and set a spell. We may not be able to control everything that crosses our field of vision, but we have a complex muscular structure that enables us to look aside or to push the remote control or to close the pop-up window on the computer screen. It is far better to uproot such weeds as soon as they appear rather than to wait until they have taken over the garden. To do otherwise is to court disaster and apostasy.
Apostasy: That word brings me to my final main point on this matter. We tend not to remember it, but in Hebrew and classical Christian thought, the terms adultery and apostasy are virtually synonymous. As recently as the early 20th century, apostasy was a common synonym for adultery. Adultery is perhaps the most prominent Old Testament image for Israels periodic abandonment of the exclusive worship of the Lord. This comes out of the irreconcilable opposition between Hebrew and Christian monotheism and the nature-worshipping paganism which was and remains its principal rival. In a very real and profound sense, infidelity to ones spouse is as much the abandonment of the worship of the one true God for the worship of an idol as is any overt verbal declaration. It is equally true that infidelity to God is no less a violation of covenant and breach of relationship than is adultery.
The idol one worships when this happens may look much different from the Baals and Asherim of old, but it is really no different in principle: Like the nature gods of old, it is a representation, not of nature as God made it, but of nature fallen from its original glory. It is the idol of self, which says do what feels good to you at the moment, which holds personal preference and convenience to be the ultimate standard of what is good, which sacrifices all upon that altar not excluding others, born and unborn, young and old (usually after defining them as non-persons). It is the worship of that idol of self which characterizes every last one of us in our fallen condition. We may be guiltless of adultery according to the mere letter of the Law, but none of us is free of the taint of infidelity, and so all of us are in need of the unmerited mercy of God.
The mercy is here. We are forgiven, and the means of appropriating that forgiveness are always available from Gods hand at his altar. It is but for us, all and each, to decide whether we need and will accept it whether we will unclench our fist from our selves and give them up to him for whose pleasure they were really made. When we do that, then we will find to our amazement that they are given back transfigured and glorified, bearing joy beyond words and peace beyond understanding and the very likeness of the beloved Son in whom his Father is well pleased.
Another keeper. :)
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