This post is part of a reflective Lenten series, originally published as Facebook posts on my personal account.
Lenten practice, day #6.
Reference: Tobit 6:2-18
Tobiah’s journey with Raphael is pretty extraordinary to modern ears. In fact, it’s pretty extraordinary to anyone’s ears, but ours especially.
The bit with the fish jumping out of the water to attack Tobiah is a confusing and potentially symbolic piece that I’d rather not get into here. However, the result is very important: Tobiah ultimately catches the fish.
At Raphael’s command, the boy Tobiah removes the fish’s gall, heart, and liver and keeps them; then they pretty much just have a fish fry and move on. As they go along, Raphael explains that the smoke created when the heart and liver are burned create a fume that permanently drives out demons from anyone who is covered in the smoke. The gall, when rubbed into one’s eyes, cure cataracts and blindness. BAM. Right there, the solutions to almost all of their problems.
Then, as they continue on, Raphael casually mentions that Tobiah needs to ask for permission to marry Sarah, whose demon has successfully killed 7 other men in her bridal chamber. Tobiah, of course, flips out. Turns out, man-killing-demon-who-attacks-when-you’re-about-to-have-sex-with-this-chick stories travel fast in the ancient world and when the young man realized what that would mean for him, he was NOT ABOUT THAT LIFE. (Or death, whatever.)
Here’s where things get interesting.
1) Raphael explains to Tobiah that he’s next in line to marry her (complicated cultural marriage traditions that I can explain later if you’d like) and calms him down by reminding him about the fish guts in his bag. The book reports that “When Tobiah heard Raphael say that she was his kinswoman, of his own family’s lineage, he fell deeply in love with her, and his heart became set on her” (Tobit 6:18). In other words (pardon the caps, it’s for emphasis, I’m not yelling) : GOD MADE TOBIAH’S DESIRES ALIGN WITH THE DIVINE WILL. That might not make sense to people who aren’t familiar with Theology of the Body, so let me explain another way: God plants desires in our hearts that will lead us to do his will. He wants us to WANT to follow him, so he designs us in such a way that we will. He WANTS us to ultimately feel as fulfilled and rewarded as we ARE when we allow our will to align with his. Have you ever noticed that of all those wonderful things Mother Teresa did for the world were things that she LOVED to do? Or that people who discover their vocation to the married life or the priesthood (etc.) ultimately realize that their vocation aligns with their talents, gifts, and interests, and it wasn’t such a difficult decision after all? People who are really called to be nuns find so much LIFE in being nuns—people who aren’t called to it can be drained by the religious life. That’s because God gives us desires that will lead us to where we belong! (Psalm 16:5-6) This is exactly what happens to Tobiah, we just see a really fast version of it because it’s the Bible so it’s relatively condensed.
2) It says that Tobiah’s heart became SET on Sarah. It doesn’t say, “And so Tobiah realized that he could probably put up with the woman for the rest of his life, and he thus settled for her.” It also doesn’t say, “Tobiah felt a manly obligation to marry her (after all, it was his cultural duty), and so begrudgingly decided to do so.” No. It says, “HE FELL DEEPLY IN LOVE WITH HER.” The definition of love is to WILL the GOOD of the other. He was completely overwhelmed by his calling to care for her, and wanted to do so with all his heart. Every fiber of his being yearned to lift her up, to cherish her, to pursue her, to work constantly for her good, and to get her to heaven. As he later finds out, Sarah is a wonderful match for him—God put in his heart an attraction for a certain kind of woman, gave him the deep yearning for that to be fulfilled, granted him the capacity to love her deeply, then (spoiler alert) granted him a life with Sarah. He put those desires in Tobiah and in Sarah with the intention to fulfill them in ways they couldn’t imagine. These stories were captured in Scripture, friends, because they reflect God’s plan for our own lives. It sounds too good to be true, yes—but God is Good. It MUST be true.
3) When Tobiah first realizes what Raphael wants him to do, he makes a fascinating comment: “So now I too am afraid of this demon. Because he loves her, he does not harm her; but he does slay any man who wishes to come close to her.” Tobiah states that demons can love. It’s possible that this is simply how the rumor traveled, and people could only think to explain the safety of Sarah but the perishing of her husbands by saying the demon must love her. It could just be simple folklore. But is it? DO demons love? Are demons capable of love? Or perhaps a more accurate term was that the demon LUSTED after her? That he was jealous of corporal beings who were able to have intercourse with her? If loving is willing the GOOD of the other, the demon must know good. Demons are fallen angels, so all demons at one time KNEW good, but fundamentally rejected it when they rejected God. Can they still appreciate the good? (Note: I do not mean something they perceive as a “good,” such as something advantageous to them. I mean the objective good, since that’s what love refers to.) Angelology and demonology are simply the most fascinating things…
4) When Raphael gives instructions to Tobiah about what to do when he enters the bridal chamber to confront the demon, he emphasizes that after burning the liver and the heart, but before they consummate their vows in the sacrifice of sex, they are to stop and pray. Two things here: 1) The act of prayer before sex really drives home the sacredness of intercourse and firmly establishes it in the Christian tradition as a spiritual engagement just as much as it is a physical, emotional, and mental engagement. Praying before sex allows the third person to enter the consummation—God—and the intercourse truly reflects the selfless communion between three beings that is the Trinity. Sex is intended to be a reflection of God’s love for us—how the offering of consummation to God allows intercourse to reach its fulfillment! 2) In my Bible, there is a notation that indicates that the PRAYER is what drives out the demon. What an interesting idea. Raphael is there to fight the demon, the smoke is there to “repel” and permanently keep out the demon—but it is PRAYER that drives him away. This emphasizes the importance of asking for assistance. Human were endowed with free will, and so God respects that out of his love for us by allowing us to exercise it—even if that means we exercise it towards our own disadvantage. All Tobiah and Sarah must do is pray, and the rest of the wheels (already there and waiting) are set in motion by a God, anxious to save.
5) Tobit 6:18 is, without a doubt, my favorite verse in the entire Bible. The verse itself is pretty long: “’As soon as the demon smells the odor they give off, he will flee and never again show himself near her. Then when you are about to have intercourse with her, both of you first rise up to pray. Beg the Lord of heaven to show you mercy and grant you deliverance. But do not be afraid, for she was set apart for you before the world existed. You will save her, and she will go with you. And I suppose that you will have children by her, who will take the place of brothers for you. So do not worry.’ When Tobiah heard Raphael say that she was his kinswoman, of his own family’s lineage, he fell deeply in love with her, and his heart became set on her.” The whole thing is great, for sure, but my favorite part falls smack-dab in the middle: “But do not be afraid, for she was set apart for you before the world existed.” How wonderful are God’s plans! He knew Tobiah and Sarah were wonderful companions for each other, so he formed them each with the other in mind, and he did so from the very beginning of time. All of these pieces were intended to fall together and lead to their union. Talk about extravagant! God is much like a man, head-over-heels for his bride (the Church), going to ridiculous lengths to demonstrate his love for her! Again, as Scripture, it is also intended to inform us of our own story. I find this verse to be incredibly comforting. I need not worry about who I will one day be with, to whom I will pledge my life and my love, with whom I will raise a family and grow old and get arthritis. I need not worry about whether or not he is for me, or that it’s right for me to commit to him—for our union was written in the stars by a God who authored it in such a way that I will DESIRE that writing in the stars, and so will my man. As one who struggles with an anxiety disorder, this verse is incredibly comforting. Each and every time I read it, I know it was written for me. God left this in the Bible as a gentle reminder for me when anxiety takes over and I can’t keep my own racing mind under control—be not afraid, for he was set apart for you before THE WORLD existed. In fact, your whole plan has been worked out by the Master Improviser. This plan has been so, SO thoroughly thought out with the utmost love by the most perfect being in existence. He’s got it—your job is just to exist and to love. Hakunah matata.
As you’ve probably noticed, I absolutely love this chapter. What are your thoughts?
(I know that the last bit sounds dangerously like predestination. If you’d like to engage with me on that topic, I’d love to. A friend of mine recently gave me the most beautiful way of understanding how God could have planned out all these things without infringing upon our free will. He said that it’s like a couple that goes to a restaurant, but the waitor comes to take the order while one of them is in the restroom. He knows his spouse so well that he knows exactly what to order her. Spend some time working that out. It’s simply wonderful!)