* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Soap Opera Characters, Bibilicial Figures, and You and Me: Self-Centered People Who Sometimes Forget that Actions Have Consequences (Thoughts on Genesis 16)

Chapter 16 of Genesis is like a scene from a soap opera.  Abraham and Sarai believed that God had promised them children.  But they were old and didn't see that as a physical possibility.  So Sarai suggested Abraham sleep with Hagar, Sarai's Egyptian maidservant.  Which he does, of course.  Hagar gets pregnant and Sarai gets angry.  Come to think of it, this could be an entire season of a soap opera.  The point is, actions have consequences, and when we act out of fear, the consequences are not usually going to be things we like.

Our actions reflect our understanding of and commitment to the truth and beauty and creativity within us, as well as our acceptance of the reality of our circumstances. It can sometimes seem like a more difficult choice to acknowledge these things, where a self-serving or violent response might be easier, or at least might more directly yield what we want from a given situation. Wisdom reveals that there are consequences to our actions, however. If we betray someone, why would we not expect them to betray us in return? If we attack someone, verbally or physically, why would we not expect retaliation?  Or in the instance recounted in Genesis 16, doesn't it makes sense for someone to run away from mistreatment?

When we choose what seems like the easier path in the moment, reacting without thinking our actions through, we actually make our journey more difficult. At the very least, we open ourselves up to be ruled by fear: fear that we won’t get what we want, fear that we won’t be able to keep it, or fear that someone will seek to harm us because of what we have done.   It's hard to imagine the married women I know saying to their husbands, "Hey, why don't you just sleep with my young servant girl."  But times were obviously different when this story was originally told.  What hasn't changed is the idea that if God has made a promise, it doesn't matter how I go about pursuing it.  Mistreatment and dehumanization of other people is seen as sanctioned behavior if a line can be traced back to a perceived divine promise.  Honestly, it winds up looking like an excuse for poor behavior by self-centered people.

I have heard people claim something akin to the idea that God has a plan and that imperfect people are used as a part of that plan.  So there is no real reason to strive to improve oneself because God can use people just as they are, mistakes and all.  There's no real way to argue with that.  The Bible is as full of people who do stupid things as the cast of any soap opera, but that doesn't mean other people are supposed to emulate them.  It's a nice sentiment that God is watching over people, even the mistreated and abused, but wouldn't it be an incredible world if people who claimed to found their lives on faith actually exhibited faith?  Everyone, at some point in their lives, can identify with one of the three people in this little domestic drama, but that doesn't mean we should make the same decisions.  To suggest that the end result is the only thing that matters opens up an ethically dangerous can of worms.
Although it requires a little more thought on our part, choosing to respect the actual truth and beauty and creativity at the heart of every person yields much greater dividends in our lives. In a way, it may be a self-focused reason to do what is right, but we ultimately can’t avoid seeking to do what we think is best for us.  Largely, it's in the way that we go about pursuing that self-interest.  When we have respect for ourselves, for other people, and for the reality of our circumstances, we can create the best results for everyone involved, including ourselves. We wind up creating more strife for ourselves and others when we react out of fear and anger.

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