LAST ROLL OF THE DICE
God's will is sometimes fulfilled in ways that leave us feeling flat and curiously subdued, but he is still at work even when we have lost the ability to care.
There is great poignancy in the descent from power of some people. The irrational chase of David (see No Place to Hide on this page) by King Saul became the focus of a desperate and ugly battle to save his throne. Saul was not some cardboard figure of evil like the tyrants of the twentieth century; he did not even want to be king and had to be prized from the locker room for his anointing. He made a promising start, but a series of rash choices led Samuel to pronounce God’s judgment on his reign. Saul did not seek power because he was corrupt, but the exercise of power corrupted him, magnifying the kind of personal weaknesses that would otherwise have tainted only his family.
As power began to leech from him following Samuel’s death, Saul was faced with a major battle against the Philistines (1 Samuel 28); he took one look at the size of their conscripted army and his legs turned to jelly. Quiet confidence in God had long evaporated and besides, God was no longer on speaking terms with him. The King tried all the usual channels but God would not return his calls. Like a jilted lover, Saul lost his senses and consulted one of the mediums he was supposed to have expelled from the land. Any supernatural answer would do for him now in his hour of need.
This strange story is unsettling. The Law of Moses expressly prohibited the people from consulting mediums about the dead. That his court knew where to find one indicated the black economy was alive in Israel and well connected. It is Samuel the king wanted to speak to but Samuel was not best pleased at being disturbed. From beyond the grave he prophesied the imminent death of Saul and his sons.
This is an uncomfortable topic but as scripture does not shirk it, neither should we. Walking down Blackpool promenade it is hard to escape the impression that spiritualism is a bogus practice to hook society’s vulnerable and gullible. Yet many Christian leaders can give testimony of being called in to offer help and prayer in situations where people have dabbled in things they do not understand or control but end up regretting.
The Church believes in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and therefore of all people at the last day. Although we do not understand how this might happen and always fail when we try to apply human chronology to the question, we nevertheless commend souls to almighty God; that they may rest in peace until they rise in glory. Spiritualism does not permit the dead to rest in peace and we do the dead a disservice when we try to communicate with them. We also deny the power of God.
One can understand how grief can draw people to these kinds of places, but it is like lowering a bucket into a broken well in frantic search of water that is not there. Jesus has risen from the dead and is the living water to whom we may turn in times of distress.
That said, Saul went to the medium not because he grieved for the death of Samuel but because he was desperate for a word from the Lord. Some people turn to occult practices either to make sense of their lives or to try and access spiritual power that makes them feel significant. Strange as this story about Saul feels, it may provide more of a window onto the modern world than we are comfortable to admit. At the start of Samuel’s life it was observed that ‘the word of the Lord was rare in those days’. There is an echo of this today, as people plug their ears rather than train them to listen to something other than the tinnitus of an over-stated culture. The search for God’s voice and our response to it is the key challenge when every person claims authority for their point of view.
The epic tussle between David and Saul has an anti-heroic end. A pre-paid formulaic scriptwriter would have had the two locked together in mortal combat on the edge of a cliff, with David applying the fatal boot to the chin which sends Saul spiralling to his death. In reality, Saul went to battle the next day against his foe and met the fate Samuel creepily predicted from beyond. And lying at his side was Jonathan. Saul and David were never reconciled and the two best friends - David and Jonathan – never sat down and shared jokes with each other again.
What should have been the happiest day of David’s life – the moment he assumed the crown – became his saddest as he grieved the loss of Jonathan and a savage blow to national pride. How typical of life to be confronted with such emotion when there is no adrenalin left in us to cope. It serves as a helpful reminder that though God’s will is good and perfect, it is sometimes fulfilled in ways that leave us feeling flat and curiously subdued. When we are next faced with that paradox, remember how David became King. God is still at work even when we lose the ability to care.
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