Thursday, April 18, 2013

judging character

written by Daniel Triestman

Read I Samuel 15 and Luke 9

And Samuel said to Saul, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.”

Whether you like Saul or not you have to at least appreciate that he is a multidimensional person. He sins against God and loses the kingdom, but Scripture also suggests positive behaviors/outcomes in reference to Saul. Thus far we have read of Saul:

He was chosen of God, he was the Lord's anointed, “God changed his heart,” “the Spirit of God came upon him” “he prophesied,” (I Sam. 10); he delivered Jabesh, “the Spirit of God came upon him mightily,” he defeated the Ammonites, he saved the lives of his detractors, “he rejoiced,” (I Sam. 11); he attacked the Philistines, he was brave while “the people trembled,” he asked the favor of the Lord (I Sam. 13); he consulted the priest, he was successful in battle, he pursued the Philistines, he “inquired of God,” he tried to purge out sin, he “prayed to God,” he was answered by God, he “acted valiantly”, he “defeated the Amalekites, he “delivered Israel,” (I Sam 14); he was charged by God again even after his sin, he showed kindness to those who showed kindness to Israel, he blessed Samuel, he stated a desire to give the best to the Lord, he admitted his sin, he asked for forgiveness, he stated a desire to worship the Lord, he admitted his sin again, he stated a desire to worship the Lord again, he accepted the judgment of the Lord, he “worshiped the Lord,” (I Sam. 15).

The text does not ask us to dismiss all of Saul's behaviors as the product of illicit motives, or all of his accomplishments as the results of evil actions. Saul, like all of us, was a complicated person with complex and dynamic intentions, behaviors and outcomes. To suggest that Saul's “every action” came from “anger,” “fear,” “pressure,” “regret” or “bewilderment” pretends an insight into Saul's heart that Scripture does not provide and perhaps veil's the real lesson that we need to learn from Saul.

Human-beings are pattern-seeking by design. We look for systems, congruity and order in everything. This helps us to know what foods are poisonous (“Hmm, Bill and George both died after eating those berries, maybe I shouldn't eat them”) and what animals make bad pets (baby crocodiles may seem cute, but they grow up), but this is also why we believe that groundhogs can predict the weather or why we are constantly finding depictions of the Virgin Mary on our Fig Newtons. Or why the friends of Job insisted that he had sinned.

It is reasonable to look for these patterns in Scripture, as well. It makes sense to categorize a person, as Chronicles does, as either one who “did evil in the sight of the Lord” or on who “did what was right in the sight of the Lord.” However, only God can determine who is righteous and who is evil. As well, just because someone is identified as good or evil does not mean that all of their actions will be consistent with their character. When Christ tells us that a tree is known by its fruit (Matt. 7:20; 12:33) he is not telling us to look at how we might wish to categorize a person and use that to identify whether their actions are good or evil. Rather He appears to be suggesting that we can look at a prophet's actions, His for example, and know whether or not the prophet is to be believed.

We want to think that bad intentions, evil actions and negative outcomes are the exclusive property of rotten people. It is more comfortable to live in a world of clear contrasts between black and white, angels and demons, saved and unsaved, good and bad. It is difficult to imagine that a born-again Christian would cheat on their wife, while a godless, unregenerate man could be possibly loving and faithful. So we excuse the Christian's sin as “not him, but the flesh within him,” and dismiss the sinner's love as “coming from selfish motives.”

In Luke 9, the disciples presume to know the character and quality of others. They argue with one another about who is greatest, they prevent a man from casting out demons, they inquire to destroy a Samaritan village, they seemed to place Christ on par with His prophets. In all four situations they are rebuked by God. Despite the pattern of behaviors that they had observed the disciples were deemed unqualified to judge anyone, let alone themselves.

In I Samuel 15 some may see Saul as nothing more than an evil, petty man. Others may find more complexity and ambivalence. Given Saul's diverse outcomes, which Saul makes for a more clear pattern?

As we read through Samuel, as well as journey through life, we do not need to be the soul-police looking for saints so that we may see goodness or sinners so that we may condemn. We are free to learn God's lessons of grace, justice, love, kindness, forgiveness, etc. through His dealings with all of His complex creation.

1 comment:

  1. This is the most thoughtful defense I've ever read of Saul. Certainly it is easy for us to dismiss someone who has fallen. At the same time, I think that sometimes disobedience makes a person complex, while one who chooses to follow the Lord's directives is simpler. Saul is portrayed in Scripture as someone who should have done better.