I always forget that the people in the Bible lived and breathed and were humans rather than cartoons. Scripture contains the whole sweep of humanity within its pages. Heroes of faith, men and women who put their lives on the line for others and their God. But sometimes it’s the bad guys that capture my attention. Someone like Jezebel, who leaps off the pages and suffocates you with her ambition and perfume. Being honest, when I picture Jezebel, whilst I’m appalled by her behaviour, there’s a teeny bit of me that feels quite envious. Not of her temperament, (I reckon that’s relatively achievable), but her power, her looks, maybe even her ambition. She could walk straight off the pages of Italian Vogue. Or Dynasty. All heaving cleavage, haughty dark eyes, heady scent, bright slash of lipstick, shoulder pads, hijab cut a little too low. Raaaaaaarr.
Why is this? There’s something about wickedness that is absolutely riveting. It’s so horrible (and yet so familiar), that we keep returning to it – whether horror films, news items, theatre or books. A few years ago I read an interview with an actor who was playing an arch villain. He commented that it was a great deal easier to play a monster than to pretend to be someone nice. Wickedness, he argued, is something we can all relate to. Goodness however, is something else. It’s boring. As an actor, it is very difficult to make someone nice seem interesting. For starters, what’s their motivation? We can’t identify with their behaviour. It doesn’t make any sense. But the bad guys – well, there’s someone we can understand.
But whilst evil makes for good television, I’m not convinced that goodness is correspondingly dull. ‘Niceness’, yes. Ever tried watching The Waltons? It’s like wading through slush. But goodness is not dreary. Threatening, perhaps. Difficult to comprehend. But boring? – never. What’s my evidence? Well, look at the Bible. Jezebel has a certain allure, but actually it’s the ‘good’ people who are most real. And by goodness I mean ordinary sinners trusting in an awesome God. They’re not cardboard cut-outs or Stepford wives. They (repeatedly) make enormous mistakes. But they’re also capable of great heroism, great kindness, great faith.
Take Sarah, married to Abraham. God has told Abraham (repeatedly), that they’ll have a son. But they’re both getting on in years. Maybe the -er, fire between the sheets is fading. An ember. Or an iceberg. Sarah however, is a woman of great faith. So she keeps trusting the Lord and patiently waiting for Him to deliver on His promise…or rather, that’s the fairytale version. The real Sarah has an inspired idea, one that the Lord obviously hadn’t considered. She says to Abraham, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her’. When, just as Sarah had planned, Hagar gets pregnant, Sarah is far from happy. Instead she turns on Abraham. ‘You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms and now she knows she is pregnant she despises me’.
What a mess! And yet – how familiar. How many times have I hatched up my own cunning schemes, brow-beaten Glen into joining them and then blamed him for not saying no? Sarah is my spiritual mum and I’m like her in more ways that I think. But wonderfully, just as she is human and has to learn to trust the Lord and grow in faith, so too can I. The people of the Bible live real lives, with the same concerns that we share today. Thinking about IVF? Devastated because you can’t have a baby when everyone else seems to be sprogging at will? Over and over again in Scripture, we read of the women who are crushed because of their inability to conceive, who pour out their hearts to the Lord.
Christianity is not an exclusive club, closed to all but the healthy, the attractive and the holy. Far from it. It’s open to all those who recognise their need of a Saviour. And as I open God’s word, I’m reminded that He loves people who are as flawed and weak as me.