Schmucks and Menschs of the Bible

The more you love God, the more struggles you’re likely to have. Think about the hard times Paul, Timothy, Joseph, and, the best example, Jesus went through. But full commitment also brings the most joy. I love the analogy of walking along a railroad track: our entire life, we will have a suffering track on one side and a joy track on the other.

As we walk through our life, sex can be one of our great joys. It can also cause unrivaled suffering. We’ve spent most of this book trying to find the joy in sex. Let’s end by thinking about how to morph that great sex life into a life fully committed to Christ.

The Bible is God’s love story to us. Look at all the ways God shows his love to the various characters in the biblical story and tells us to love each other. Getting this love stuff right is one of the main purposes of life. How do we learn to love from the Bible?

Let’s start with “good guys” and “bad guys” in the biblical stories. We’ll call the good guys Menschs (a person of integrity and honor), and the bad guys are Schmucks (a foolish or contemptible person). Who are some of Schmucks of the Bible? Jesus spent much of his time telling the religious leaders and Pharisees they were schmucks. Here are some others:

1.     The other guy on the cross that didn’t end up in heaven that day.

2.     The two busy guys in the Good Samaritan story

3.     Solomon’s son Rehoboam

4.     Saul, the first king of Israel

5.     Ahab and all the evil kings of Israel

What do all these schmucks have in common? They are arrogant and entitled (i.e., anything but humble). They act as if they have all the answers. They are self-important, valuing themselves way above others. They are not kind.

I’d call them blowhard know-it-alls. I hate spending time with folks like that. I have to be careful not to become one.

Now let’s look at the Menschs: Jesus, Paul, Timothy, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Jonathan, Ruth, Esther, Job, and many more. What differentiates them? They all have humility. They take life as it comes and try to follow God’s direction. A thread of kindness runs through all of them, though many showed incredible strength with that kindness. These Menschs were courageous. They handled their struggles with integrity and honor.

When I contemplate how I want to behave or what I want to believe, this clear choice between Schmuck and Mensch behavior helps me decide what to do in any given situation. It is like the “What Would Jesus Do?” concept, but it can be spread over to a few more folks who weren’t the Son of God.

I like starting with the basic question, “Is this Jerk behavior?” Unfortunately, it’s a question too many Christians never ask. Consider behaviors such as leaving a lousy tip at a restaurant (something Christians are known for), acting judgmental and self-righteous (another popular perception of Christians), or not being kind when it would be easy to do so.

Simply not being a jerk should be the starting point for Christians or for anyone striving to live a meaningful life, but effective Christian living needs to go much further than that.

Love and Forgiveness

Study the Gospels and you’ll find that the most revolutionary teaching of Jesus was forgiveness. He told his followers they’d be forgiven as they forgive. He told several parables about the importance of forgiveness. While the Old Testament shows Joseph forgiving his brothers and David forgiving Mephibosheth, these acts are simply noted as the character of a good man. Jesus makes forgiveness a crucial part of loving God and loving others.

I’ve found the best way to live forgiveness every day is to let go of attachments. I’m not the general manager of the Universe; I need to let go of that attachment of wanting to boss others around and “help” them. I let go of the attachment of thinking I deserve to be treated a certain way, with the amount of respect due a man of my position.

I strive to remember how much respect Jesus and Paul received from those who opposed them, and realize I deserve much less than I get. As I struggle to give up entitlement and embrace humility, forgiveness flows naturally. And when I muck it up, I promptly forgive myself and try again to forgive others.

Letting go of attachments is central to forgiveness. Otherwise, forgiveness becomes just an act of will for something that we don’t really believe. But when we let go of the attachment of what we deserve and who we are, we realize the truth of needing and offering forgiveness.

We embrace the reality that we don’t have all the answers—that we are simply a life saved by Christ, struggling to love God and others. When Jesus tells his disciples they must hate their families, he is telling them to give up the attachment to anything on Earth (even though it may be a good and important thing) in order to love God entirely.[4]

The story of Job illustrates it best. Job lost his wealth, all his children were killed, he suffered with painful boils all over his body, he sat in grief for days, and then his friends told him it all had to be his fault because a righteous God wouldn’t allow this to happen to a good man. Yet Job continued to love God, even in anger about his circumstances.

Part of my daily prayers include what I call “Job’s prayer.”

Lord, I give you my possessions,
My relationships,
My health,
My time,
My reputation
And my life.

I often shudder after saying “My relationships,” as I consider losing my children and grandchildren and so many others that I deeply love. But I know my love for God must be higher than all that. That’s what I think it means to hate your family in order to love God.

As I strive to live in that deep love with God, I realize I need to let go of resentment, but I can’t. Then I remember God doesn’t ask me to change my feelings; he asks me to forgive. When I make that choice to forgive, my feelings follow along behind, usually later and sporadically.

While God doesn’t ask us to change our feelings, he does ask us to change our actions. God can heal every wound, but we need to choose to forgive to let the healing begin. Jesus taught this revolutionary concept in a way that was pertinent in ancient times, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, whatever crazy times we now brave, and every future time.

My Sex: Celebration or Sin?

As I love God and love others, as I strive to let go of attachments and to forgive others, how do I honor God with my sex life? How do I determine what is joyful sex and what is sinful sex? Start by defining sin. A traditional understanding is that the Bible stipulates sinful actions. Murder, adultery, lying, and stealing are sins.

But God is a God of complexity. Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer committing sin as he helped plot the murder of Adolf Hitler? Bonhoeffer was killed for these efforts and most folks would say he was a courageous man who was attempting to follow the Holy Spirit’s direction in his life.

Many church leaders in early Nazi Germany meekly followed the law and their leaders. These folks reaped the benefits of acquiescence. They were rewarded by Hitler for their loyalty. Looking through the lens of history, we despise those cowards. To stay in that historical time, the civilian Germans who hid Jews and lied when the Nazis came looking for them lied with honor. No one would call that courageous behavior sinful.

Could adultery ever not be sinful? Consider a woman who cares for her husband with dementia for many years. She works at a job, acts as primary caregiver, and lives in brutal loneliness. If she falls in love with another man, may she act on that passion? Some would say, “God makes life hard. She just has to follow the rules.” Others would see some room for grace in that scenario.

Perhaps we should start with the premise that sin has victims. Murder, stealing, and child molesting all have clear victims. Putting anything higher than God (idolatry, greed, immorality, etc.) makes God and ourselves the victim. We evaluate the sinfulness of a behavior partly by the harm the sinful act causes.

We also consider intent. Sinful behavior tends to have selfish, lazy, or unkind intent. Good behavior tends to be done in a loving manner, and it often requires extra effort.

For example: is masturbation sinful? Consider a scenario in which the wife had a baby several months ago and is feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and anti-sexy. The husband still has his normal sex drive. It seems to me that the husband letting his wife sleep and heading to the shower to shake hands with the Admiral can be considered an act of compassion.

On the other hand, frequent self-gratification could make masturbation an idol in a person’s life. If important things go undone because you put so much time and effort into pleasing yourself, victims emerge. Also, if the intent is selfish and lazy, it may be sinful.

By the way, if a behavior simply creeps you out, you are not victimized by that behavior. You may feel uncomfortable with the thought of men having sex with other men, but that doesn’t make you a victim, and it doesn’t make gay sex sinful.

Are there any rules for sex?

1.     Any non-consensual sex (read rape) is sin. When a husband forces his wife to have sex with him, when unwanted sexual activity happens on a date, or when a person is unable to give consent, any sexual action is rape.

2.     Any sex with a child is sin. Child molestation seems the most egregious sin fallen humanity has devised.

3.     Sex that violates a trust (such as adultery) is sin. Solomon describes a foolish young man seduced by a married woman as sin with consequences.[1] Godly sex should not create victims. This concept covers the two words (Pornea and Moichos) the Bible uses for prohibited sex.[2]

As you consider what to do or not do in your own sex life, think about doing what you can to make God smile. He loves you more than you can imagine (unless you have grandchildren, then you might have a limited idea of that kind of love). Make your sex a celebration. Act with love and make the effort to have Great Sex, Christian-Style.

[1] Proverbs 7

[2] See page 147 for definitions of Pornea and Moichos.

Living the Fruits

We discus the Fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control) in Building Desire. [1] Living the Fruits of the Spirit will make you desirable to your spouse. God seems to share this view.

I fully believe that we can never behave in a way that is acceptable to God without the grace of Jesus, but I also know that Jesus said, “By their fruits you will recognize them [as believers].” [2] Jesus also told his followers that they had no part in him if they didn’t live in love.[3]

While I strive to refrain from judging others, I can’t live in society without making some guesses about who can and can’t be trusted. When I see Christians living the Fruits of the Spirit, I tend to believe their profession of faith. But when I see professing Christians who aren’t living those fruits, I doubt their sincerity.

I’ve often been guilty of living a fruitless life. In our early years of marriage, I often annoyed Debby with my thoughtlessness and selfishness. A wise friend lived with us for a couple of years, and he gave me some advice: “Ned, when you’re in any kind of conflict with Debby, think about the thing you want to do next, then do the opposite.”

I initially assumed this was just another way for him to tell me I was a moron, but when I tried to follow his advice, it often worked. If I wanted to respond in anger, I instead said something nice. If I wanted to walk away, I stayed. If I wanted to agree just to get it over with, I instead tried harder to understand.

Over the years, I’ve found this technique consistently helpful. The practice forces me to stop and think, and that may be the biggest benefit. I take myself off automatic pilot and consider who I am, who she is, and our relationship with each other and God. The technique is like anti-jerk spray.

Living intentionally in this one moment is the best way to live. Being aware of the Fruits of the Spirit helps us live well, but we need to guard against making it our primary focus, making our spouse the focus, or making great sex the focus. Loving God must be our focus. When we focus on loving God, we naturally love others.

[1] Galatians 5:22-23

[2] Matthew 7:16

[3] Matthew 7:23