Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Enigmatic Saul

As I read through 1 Samuel, I have come across one of the most puzzling characters in the Bible.  Saul was the first king of Israel, anointed by Samuel for the job.  God selected Saul, a young man who stood much taller than other men.  He seemed to have all the right stuff for leadership.

Samuel promised the young man that God would come upon him in power, and that Saul would be a different person.  Sure enough, as Saul left Samuel, "God changed Saul's heart."

Saul was even humble.  After being anointed as king, he didn't tell anybody.  Only when Samuel called him out publicly did Saul acknowledge that God had called him as the nation's leader.

But soon the power of kingship went to Saul's head.  He began taking shortcuts with his instructions from Samuel.  He tried to justify his actions and explain his good reasons for disobedience or "near obedience."  At one point he even asks Samuel to make him look good in front of the people, in spite of his disobedience.

Eventually God removes his hand of blessing and decides to take the kingdom away from Saul.

It really gets bad when David comes into the picture.  Saul becomes convinced that David is conspiring to kill him and take the throne.  Saul behaves like a madman, suspecting everyone of treason.  His bizarre behavior actually leads some of his subjects to work around him, but not to kill him.  Saul eventually dies on the battlefield, having led his army to defeat. 

So, I wonder, what's up with Saul?  Did God really change his heart?  Did Saul change it back?  Was God's work in his life conditional upon Saul's obedience?

I believe that God changes hearts today.  He transforms lives.  He puts his Holy Spirit in us to lead us and to change our patterns of behavior.  This work of God depends not on our righteousness, but on the righteousness of Jesus, who gave his life as a sacrifice for us on the cross.  We can't undo the work of God.

That's why I just don't get Saul.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I'm reading A Patriot's History now, and learning everything I never knew from American history.  Somehow I missed a lot of important stuff in my school years.  For example, I knew that Benedict Arnold was a traitor, but in reading this book I learned exactly what he did.

Another thing I am learning is that the partisan spirit has always been part of American politics.  Last year I read Washington's Farewell Address, in which he warns of the dangers of opposing parties seizing political power from one other in alternating elections.  On that basis, I assumed that after the Constitution was ratified in 1788, everyone got along like one big happy family.

We speak of our "Founding Fathers," and what they would say about various issues today.  What I am learning about our history is that different founding fathers had different (strong) opinions about how government should work, and what government should do.  We have always had opposing points of view, struggling mightily with each other.

What really amazes me is that both the Jeffersonian and the Washingtonian camps have left important marks on our history and traditions.  From today's vantage point, it seems like we received the best from both extremes.  If either party in the country's infancy had had full sway, our country would not be nearly as great as it is today.

So, my illusion that political fighting is something new is just that--an illusion.  Now I'm trying to wrap my head around what really makes our country great.  Why did we get the best from both sides in the controversies?  What if each side had left us with its worst ideas?

The more I read, the more I see God's fingerprints on the history of this nation.  Yes, we had egregious faults, especially allowing slavery anywhere, any time.  But somehow, God, I believe, has really blessed us.  And I think he has blessed us for a reason.  Why has he so blessed me that I could be a part of this nation?  I'm trying to find out.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I'm not normally an angry person.  I'm glad, too, because it takes a lot of energy.  I got angry this week over some personal issues, and I learned a few things. 

First, anger affects the way I relate to everything and everyone.  It doesn't just affect my relationship with person I'm angry with.

Being angry changes the way I see everything.  Fun things are not as fun.  Beauty is not as beautiful.  I cannot think very clearly when I'm angry.  I have to measure my words, and my thoughts seem to swirl in my head, defying me to express them.  And that's how I feel talking to a complete stranger.

Being angry makes me tired.  I get exhausted when I'm angry.  I need a lot of sleep anyway, and anger makes it even worse. 

It takes a long time for me to get angry, but when I get there, I tend to camp out.  My anger is always so righteous; I like to enjoy being so right when someone else is so wrong.  (symptom of unclear thinking)  Eventually reality sets in, and I see that I have to move beyond my anger.  Often I realize that I wasn't nearly as right as I thought.

I can't imagine living every day angry, like some people seem to do.  I don't think I could get enough sleep. 

It feels good to move beyond anger and return to joy.  That's where I really want to camp out.  The joy of the Lord is our strength, said Nehemiah.  No wonder I was so tired.