A few months ago, there was a lot in the headlines about a major data theft at a website designed to make it easier for married people to commit adultery. One thing that I remember becoming clear was that nearly all of the people who’d paid a fee to sign up were men.
This came to mind when I read chapter 7, because I’m a bit uneasy about the way that all the warnings against adultery seem to assume that there are predatory women out there seeking to lead innocent young men astray. I’m not sure that the evidence suggests it’s usually that way round.
But again, I think that the explanation may be that the passage is both about the blessings of marital faithfulness and love versus the damage done by adultery and about the real seductive power of folly to lead us away from our true spouse, wisdom. Wisdom is given the full range of human relationships to us that a woman can have – mother, sister, wife – but in chapter 7 it is the last that comes to the front.
It’s a powerful image and comparison to a wise life – one that requires exclusive faithfulness and repays years spent together with ever-deepening understanding. And negatively, the comparison of following another path to adultery is a powerful one – we see all too easily and often the damage done by betrayal and infidelity within marriages.
Sometimes adultery happens through infatuation – seeking after immediate pleasure without thought for the consequences. But even if the betrayed spouse never finds out, the relationship is damaged. Any flirtation with sin damages our relationship with wisdom and so with God.
Sometimes adultery happens when someone imagines a fantasy relationship with someone else which miraculously has all that they think is lacking in their marriage – and pursues that rather than working to put right what they see as wrong in the relationship they already have. It’s easy to seek quick-fix ways in life, rather than the sometimes slow often costly and deliberate way of following God. But relationships founded on running away from responsibility and work don’t usually last, and the same is true with any relationship with folly.
Wisdom is worth spending a lifetime with, and working to get to know more fully. And one bit of that is to enjoy the relationship you’re in and work at it, building a life with another person with the decision to love, spoken at a wedding and renewed each day.