CTBHHM: In Which Debi Mangles Another Bible Character

CTBHHM: In Which Debi Mangles Another Bible Character September 19, 2014

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 277-279

Today we get the rest of Sarah’s story. In this section Debi reads into the Bible, urges abused women to blame themselves, and sees a Sarah I don’t see. The Bible has lots of different stories that can be used to illustrate some really important points and themes (as with any body of mythology), but Debi seems bound and determined to take complex and interesting stories and make them two dimensional.

While Abraham was learning to obey God, Sarah was learning to obey her husband, and God was busy doing miracles for both of them.

The text doesn’t actually say this. This idea that Sarah spent her time learning to obey Abraham is Debi’s insertion. The reality is that Sarah had a lot of work and a lot of responsibility. Abraham had a host of servants and others who traveled with his family, along with sheep and goats and all the required paraphernalia. Sarah had a very important role to play in keeping all of this operating.

God chose Sarah as surely as he chose Abraham. it took an obedient woman to become the mother of a great nation. Sarah wasn’t Abraham’s only wife; nor was Isaac Abraham’s only son. Hagar, Sarah’s maid, who bore Abraham’s son, Ishmael, was treated with very little regard by Abraham. When Sarah, in jealous anger, demanded that Abraham cast Hagar and her son out into the desert alone, God told Abraham to do as she said, thus fixing in Abraham’s heart that only through Isaac’s seed would come all the blessings he had promised. Abraham married again after Sarah died, yet you never hear anyone mention this wife. The six children Abraham had with Keturah merit just one little verse in Scripture, recording the fact that he had additional children.

I’m not sure what the point of this paragraph is, but I do know that both God and Abraham come off really badly. I think Debi is simply trying to emphasize Sarah’s importance, but in so doing she’s told us that both Abraham and God didn’t care about Hagar and her son Ishmael, or about Abraham’s six children by Keturah.

I know that for Abraham to be the man he was, Sarah had to be a powerful encourager. There must have been times when Abraham became discouraged. “I look and I look for the city whose builder and maker is God, and still no city!” “Well, Abraham,” Sarah might have laughing told him, “Our life has become a lot more rewarding for the looking, and we have nothing better to do, so we’ll try again tomorrow.”

For someone who claims to be all about just taking the plain meaning of the Bible, Debi sure spends a lot of time reading her ideas into it. The text actually seems to indicate that Sarah was a bit of a cynic. There’s this from Genesis 18, when angels visited Abraham:

And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent.

10 And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.

11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.

12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?

13 And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?

14 Is any thing too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.

15 Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh.

This doesn’t sound to me like the Sarah Debi is describing.

Debi goes on with this:

Who and what should my husband be if he had married another woman? Have I made it possible for him to be a strong, confident, aggressive man of God? Have I allowed God to direct his life and work? Have I appreciated his calling and interests? Have I been a help meet for my man? Is he a better, stronger, more capable man for having me as his wife? If God were creating the perfect lady for him, would it have been me? 

Yes, we shape those around us. But Debi is turning that simple reality into some sort of art form. Notice that she’s also once again emphasizing the wife as some sort of attachment designed to improve the husband, rather than seeing the relationship as mutual, where each shapes the other. Debi has written elsewhere and in this book that the wife must shape herself into the complement of her husband, becoming whatever it is he needs. But she doesn’t see this as the husband shaping the wife but rather as the wife remaking herself to fit her husband. (This would all be simpler and less confusing if Debi could start seeing people as people first rather than primarily as genders.)

But here it takes a turn for the worse:

Over the years, I have on many occasions seen what appeared to be a good woman married to a man who seemed to be a worthless, no-account slob. Finally, after years of abuse, the “god” woman divorces her drunken husband, with everyone agreeing that it was the only thing she could do. Within a year, the worthless drunk marries again. A few months after his marriage, he stops drinking—without the aid of a twelve-step program—and then spends the rest of his life working steady, enjoying his new family, loving his new wife, and never touching another drop of liquor. I have enough sense to know that some men are addicted to alcohol, porn, and laziness, regardless of their wives, but I have witnessed the above scenario too many times to dismiss it as insignificant. This is by no means advocating divorce and remarriage. Rather, it says that if some “worthless” men had wives who were more _____ (you fill in the blank), they would not be so worthless.

One thing I’ve been hammering throughout this review series is that Debi’s advice is toxic in the hands of abused women. And the thing is, Debi frequently speaks directly to them. It’s not like she thinks only women in healthy relationships will read her book, or that her advice only applies to functional relationships. Far from it. Instead, she’s continually promising women in bad relationships that if they do this, or that, or act just right, their husband will change and become the man they want him to be.

And here she’s telling women married to abusive men, or in bad relationships, that their husband’s problems may actually be their problems. It might just be that they’re such awful wives that they’re turning their husbands into horrible people. And given that abusers typically tell their victims that they are losers, worthless, etc., abuse victims are primed to hear this message and believe it. And here Debi is, confirming it—that it’s all their fault.

God chose this one special man and this one special woman to become the father and mother of a great nation. Sarah wasn’t commended for being a wonderful mother. She spent most of her life childless, being an old woman before her only son was born, and then died before Isaac was grown. She was commended because she believed God and called her husband lord. She was the kind of wife God needed to make the kind of man God chose to bring forth a great nation.

So I finally actually looked up some verses, and, actually, no. Yes, I Peter 3 does say Sarah called Abraham “lord,” though Jewish readers have pointed out that that was simply the term wives used to address their husbands at that time (much like wives in medieval England sometimes referred to their husbands as “my lord”). In I Peter 3, Sarah is primarily held up to the Christians of Pontus and Galatia as an example of a meek and quiet spirit, though her obedience to Abraham is also noted. These accolades seem a bit ironic given that Sarah first laughed at and then lied to an angel. Regardless, this is not what she was primarily honored for. Sarah was one of only two women listed in the Hebrews 11 wall of faith. Here is her listing:

Hebrews 11:11—Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

Sarah is not honored for obeying her husband but rather for believing God. Which, again, is a bit odd, given that she laughed at the angel who told her she would conceive, and then lied to him. Either way, this verse describes a direct relationship between Sarah and God, and does not even mention Abraham.

Frankly, in the Genesis chapters that follow her story and that of her husband Abraham, Sarah comes across as very human. So do most of the characters in the Bible. But in Debi’s hands, Sarah’s story is not proof that God can use flawed individuals or that God works through all kinds of people but rather an illustration of a woman who always obeyed her husband. It would be sad, what Debi does to these passages and people, if it weren’t so toxic.

Debi finishes with this:

God says of Abraham, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgement . . . “ (Genesis 18:19). Are your children rebellious? Is your home in shambles, and you cannot get help from your husband? Perhaps the problem lies in how you respond to your man. “Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement” (I Peter 3:6).

What Debi Pearl advocates throughout her book is man-worship. Many conservative Christians would suggest that if your children are out of control and your home is in shambles, you should cry out to God. Not so Debi. Debi says that if your children are out of control and your home is in shambles, you should worship your husband.

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