Read I Samuel 15 (again) and James 4
And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the Lord.”
Three people in Scripture get a particularly good spin for their bad behavior: Eve, Judas and Saul. The stories of Eve and Judas have been the plots of many novels: always tragic, and always sympathetic. For some reason God gets all the blame, either for their misbehavior or way overdoing the consequences for their transgression. Eve is portrayed heroically. She has the courage to defy a capricious God because she knows she must fulfill her destiny as the humanity’s first woman. The spin on Judas is all across the board. But regardless of why he betrayed the Lord Jesus, he had his reasons—yet for some reason, the Biblical explanation of Judas being merely a thief and thus greedy for money is never mentioned.
Saul is definitely the lesser of these three antiheroes. I’ve never seen any serious novels with his story being the plot. And I don’t hear skeptics using Saul as a proof-text as their indictment against God. But in scholarly Biblical studies, Saul is explained as complex and conflicted. Discussion is made on whether the writer(s) of I Samuel were overly harsh in a glib assessment of his character.
My first response to this is that though Samuel had to tell Saul that God had rejected him, Scripture tells us that Samuel, “grieved over Saul.” I Samuel 15:35. Then we read, “The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over all of Israel?”
Though I don’t dare suggest that I can judge when this is, there comes a time when every person either acknowledges God and His legitimate authority, or acknowledges another authority. This is something that every accountable person is responsible to do. No one is allowed to claim they are merely victims of their circumstances .Scripture tells us, “He who believes is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already. John 3:18. We also read, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you,” James 4:8. We know that our Lord, “is not willing that any should perish.” II Peter 3:9
Saul was a complex man. If a person does not understand that God is all in all, the beginning and the end, that person becomes more and more complex, for his heart is moved in many directions.
I am guessing there are very few pure atheists. Certainly Saul was not an atheist. His understanding of God and his relationship with God was part of his heart’s equation, part of the reason why Saul did what he did. But that was the problem. His heart was divided.
David, after he committed the most heinous of sins, confessed, “Against You and You only have I sinned.” Psalm 51:4. Reckoned by specific acts of sin, David was much, much worse than Saul. Yet he knew at this horrible time he could have faith in God, “A broken and a contrite heart, oh God, You will not despise.” Psalm 51: 17. David knew he could find forgiveness, even for this worst of sins, for his faith was a simple faith.
I don’t know what was in Saul’s heart. I have no real idea who or what his faith was in. He seems to have been a complex man.