In a recent “tour” through the Old Testament, I have repeatedly seen that the featured people of the Bible have prominent dysfunction in their lives. This is not the exception—it’s the norm! We talk about “great lives” in the Bible—and there are many of them—but the thing that amazes me is how many of those “great lives” were actually lived by damaged people with serious family issues. Personally, I find this trend somewhat comforting—not a justification for wrong-doing or unhealthiness, but at least a consoling depiction of the challenges we humans face. I don’t find myself alone as the only one dealing with issues.
Consider the prevailing trend of "unhealth" among some of the Bible’s greats:
Adam, the first man, was a blame shifter who couldn’t resist peer pressure. (Genesis 3:12)
Eve, the first woman, couldn’t control her appetite and, should we say, had the first eating disorder? (Genesis 3:6)
Cain, the first born human being, murdered his brother. (Genesis 4:8)
Noah, the last righteous man on earth at the time, was a drunk who slept in the nude. (Genesis 9:20-21)
Abraham, the forefather of faith, let other men walk off with his wife on two different occasions. (Genesis 12 and 20)
Sarah, the most gorgeous woman by popular opinion, let her husband sleep with another woman and then hated her for it. (Genesis 16)
Lot, who lost his father early in life, had a serious problem with choosing the wrong company. (Genesis 18-20)
Job, supposedly a contemporary of Abraham and the epitome of faith, suffered from the nagging of a faithless wife. (Job 2:9)
Isaac, who was nearly killed by his father, talked his wife into concealing their marriage. (Genesis 26)
Rebekah, the first “mail order bride,” turned out to be a rather manipulative wife. (Genesis 27)
Jacob, who out-wrestled God, was pretty much a pathological deceiver. (Genesis 25, 27, 30)
Rachel, who wrote the book on love at first sight, was a nomadic kleptomaniac. (Genesis 31:19)
Reuben, the pride and firstborn of Jacob, was a pervert who slept with his father’s concubine. (Genesis 35:21)
Moses, the humblest man on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:13), had a very serious problem with his temper. (Exodus 2, 32:19; Numbers 20:11)
Aaron, who watched Jehovah triumph over Pharaoh, formed an abominable idol during an apparent episode of attention deficit disorder or perhaps colossal amnesia. (Exodus 32)
Miriam, the songwriter, had sibling jealousy and a greed for power. (Numbers 12)
Samson, who put Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura to shame, was hopelessly enmeshed with a disloyal wife—and ended up taking his own life. (Judges 16)
Eli, who ruled over Israel, was a hopelessly incapable father who lost his sons to immorality—and to an untimely death. (1 Samuel 2, 4)
Saul, the first and powerful king of Israel, was apparently a psychotic with manic bursts of anger, episodes of deep depression and traces of paranoia, too. He committed suicide. (1 Samuel 16, 18, 19, 31)
David, the friend of God, concealed his adultery with a murder. (2 Samuel 11)
Solomon, the wisest man in the world, was arguably the world’s greatest sex addict with 1,000 sexual partners. (1 Kings 11)
With rare exception, all the kings that followed Solomon had mammoth issues in their lives.
Hosea, an incredibly forgiving man, grappled with the pain of a wife who could be described as a nymphomaniac.
The prophets, even as they spoke for God, struggled with impurity, depression, unfaithful spouses and broken families.
So what? Where’s the edification in the list of warped examples? Should we all just throw up our hands, conceding that people are typically a mess? Of course not. But there are some practical and productive takeaways from these patterns of dysfunction in the Bible.
Here are some takeaways:1. God is unabashedly honest in his depiction of the human condition. We can likewise grapple with authenticity and frankness. The temptation to misrepresent ourselves and the pressure to put on a mask causes further damage. The Gospel invites us to come into and live in the light.
2. Dysfunction cannot be equated with our standing before God. Most of those listed above can be characterized as righteous—or at least people of faith as we see in Hebrews 11. Whether it be we ourselves or those we shepherd, it’s not so much what our issues are—it’s how we handle our issues. And even if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart (1 John 3:20). Paul spent his energy struggling against sin and left the task of judging himself with God. (1 Corinthians 4:3)
3. Sin does indeed have consequences. Pain, brokenness, loss, even death, follow our bad choices. Hopefully our distaste for sin is driven by our gratitude and love for God. But if for no other reason, we should at least avoid it to escape the incredible pain that accompanies it. (Galatians 6:7)
4. We do not have to feel alone in our sufferings. We’ve been given a cloud of witnesses that can identify with how messy life can be. We can take heart because we can get through our challenges and one day be relieved of our striving against sin. (Hebrews 12:4)
5. There is most certainly grace to be had. It’s what the Gospel is all about. No one can unscramble scrambled eggs—except God. So let us take our scrambled lives to God who understands and has mercy. (Hebrews 4:16) This is what redemption is all about.
In light of the messy lives of the Bible, let me leave you with three questions:
1. Does your church have a culture that allows for authentic openness about messy lives?
2. Do you yourself sense the tender heart of God as you grapple with your own issues?
3. What can you do today to model a healthy posture toward the messes we face?
Ron Forseth is Editor-at-Large for SermonCentral.com, ChurchLeaders.com, and FaithIt.com. He studied for two years with Wycliffe Bible Translators and has a passion to share Christ and see all people groups of the world reached with the Gospel. He served for several years as a college pastor in Colorado and in Christian service for most of the 1990s in China and Mongolia. He is General Manager of Outreach Media Group and Vice President of Outreach, Inc., an organization dedicated to inviting and connecting every person in America to a Bible-believing church so that they might have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Ron lives with his wife, Carol, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.