Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Which of two kings I may be like.
I've got to admit, King Saul's downfall fills my heart with a bit of sympathy. He started off so well. Not only did he attain sudden celebrity status but back in those early days, he seemed to do it in a very humble and courteous way. He was one of the people the Bible bothered to describe as good looking. Not only was he handsome but head and shoulders above most other men. Probably every Hebrew girl's crush, the sort of guy who would be splashed across the covers of many magazines if he'd been alive in a much later era.
When you read through his story, you see that many of his big mistakes had to do with personal relations, keeping up his desire for looking good in front of the people and not slipping in the popularity polls. Without actually having it stated in the Bible, he was one of the first of many P.R. casualties who have crashed and burned.
I think it's good to put ourselves in his place and challenge ourselves to honestly assess whether we might not have at least considered making the same moves in his place. There is the incident in 1Samuel 13, when he was under military pressure and Samuel, the priest, hadn't showed up to make the prescribed sacrifices. With his soldiers slipping away right and left, I can imagine the desperation that urged Saul to say, "Bring the burnt offering and the peace offering!" I can also get his explanation, when he told Samuel, "I was losing my army... you hadn't come when you said you would... I didn't know what to do... the Philistines were about to come upon me and I hadn't asked for God's help, so I took it into my own hands." In fact, if I'd been him, I might have even added, "Where were you, anyway? How about keeping your word and getting here on time?"
Without padding this out with any more examples, of which there were many, we see there was one crucial difference between Saul and David, his eventual replacement. Saul did things to please people and desperately try to hitch up his popularity, whenever he perceived it might be sagging. David's normal motivation was to please God, not people. His Psalms are full of it. Saul sought the gifts, David sought the giver. Saul wanted answers, David wanted the Answerer. Saul wanted to maintain his own reputation intact, David didn't give a fig for all that, if it meant that his relationship with God would be compromised. I want to be a David, but in many ways, Saul is still easy to relate to.
I see him not as a villain but as a promising hero who made wrong choices and spiralled downward. A man who wanted to cling so tightly to the good things he had without losing any of them that he let his judgment and perspective get skewed. A man who allowed the lesser emotions of jealousy, envy, rage and resentment drag him into deep melancholic depression. Then in the end, he reminds me of a little boy who wanted so badly to preserve his ice-cream that it melted in his hand. How sad that the humble young man who was found hiding among the baggage at the beginning of his inauguration became the same man who was busy erecting a victory monument in his own honour toward the end.
I came across these passages from Thomas Merton's letter to a young activist, which make me think of King Saul's deep attitute, which I think is often easy to recognise in ourselves too.
"You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work and your witness. You are using it, so to speak, to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God's love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without you knowing it."
"Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not, perhaps, results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself."
Modern author Joan Borisenko, had this to say in a book about burnout. "Here's a thought worth contemplating. People who have the greatest investment in projects and ideas are much likelier to burn out than those who are less attached to the outcome of whatever they're involved in. Although commitment to a cause , a job, your children, may seem selfless and virtuous, there's often an underlying ambition and motivation to prove your importance and worth that predisposes you to becoming fried."
I sometimes find myself tired out and frazzled, and must admit that when I contemplate this possible reason for it, I often do have to admit a deep desire to impress and an anxiety about the results of whatever I'm doing that makes me feel as if I'm tied in knots. How refreshing, to take on boards the attitudes of King David and Thomas Merton.