Yesterday, my pastor, as is his custom, delivered a thought-provoking message on the subject of integrity. I had already planned to muse upon some of the tangles of my own life in this subject, but did not wish to speak seemingly out of the blue without any larger context . Yet, as the message was dealing with very serious matters that were already on my mind, I thought it appropriate to comment at least some on the subject insofar as it relates to me. I know I am an imperfect person, and I am pretty candid and honest about my struggles, many of which are immensely long-lasting and difficult. Yet at the same time I consider myself very strongly to be a person of honor and integrity in my dealings with God and others. At the age of 18, as a college student in Los Angeles, I made my commitment to the whole way of God, and not just the easy parts, and for all of my struggles and difficulties, I have remained committed to the whole package today, and as long as there remains breath in my lungs and as long as God has allotted me to live on this earth, in whatever state I find myself in.
One of the more pointed passages of yesterday’s sermon provoked me to think about something I have never thought this particular passage. Most of the time, when one reads this passage, the focus is on Abraham and his lack of faith in having his wife pretend to be his sister, for the second time (something his son would later do in this same place with his slightly more distantly related wife). Yet, as I thought about the defense of Abimelech to God, and God’s response, I was struck by something which may be deeply relevant to my own life (and that of other people). We can see this part of the story in Genesis 20:1-10:
“And Abraham journeyed from there to the South, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar. Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she, even she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this.” And God said to him in a dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now therefore, restore the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” So Abimelech rose early in the morning, called all his servants, and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were very much afraid. And Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done.” Then Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you have in view, that you have done this thing?””
We can see from this passage that Abimelech was a decent and honorable man, although a Gentile ruler, and that he felt greatly offended at being lured into a great sin that threatened the life of him and his people when his own motives were good. Indeed, his character was sufficiently noble that God agreed that his claims to integrity were correct. Yet there is something else that God said in this passage that struck me rather forcefully, when He said, “For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.” As someone who has faced in the course of my life a great deal of temptation when it comes to sexual immorality, with a firm desire to be a person of honor and integrity in my dealings with young women, some of whom I am very attracted to, it is striking thought to realize the possibility of God’s hand in withholding me from danger through a variety of means. That puts some of the rather frustrating drama of the last two years or so in the context of a bizarre and stressful but rather compelling case of divine providence.
We tend to automatically view divine providence in terms of what opportunities are granted, and not in the barriers that are placed in our way. Yet life is full of opportunity costs, and sometimes in order for people to enjoy the best things they have to withhold themselves, or be withheld by others, from good things. Part of putting our life in God’s hands means letting Him do what He wants, even when it doesn’t make a lot of sense. When it comes to love and relationships, not a lot makes sense. Even the places where we live are subject to all kinds of random chances and are matters that are hard to understand . We may know, for example, that God has had a hand in the course of our lives, sometimes a forceful one and sometimes a rather gentle and indirect one, without knowing where we are going. And that’s quite alright; God doesn’t have to tell us what He is doing, He just tells us to trust Him to know what He is doing and that He does it better than we can on our own. That includes what He prevents us from doing as well as what He allows us to do. Occasionally, we are led to recognize that and appreciate that, as uncomfortable as it may be for us sometimes. Is it not better for God to prevent us from certain sins so that we may preserve our good character than for us to be led into all kinds of evil simply because of our own longings? Thanks be to God for protecting us from harm, even when we are not always very enthusiastic about that protection.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: