Monday, August 17, 2009

"God-Impacted Life: Lamentation"

Scripture Readings: 1 Samuel 31:1-7; 2 Samuel 1:1-17: John 11:17-36

King Saul, that tormented man, that hater of David, is a mystery. Saul was a good man who loved hearing what the Lord wanted him to do, but, once he heard what the Lord wanted him to do; Saul always thought he could improve on God’s idea. (1 Samuel 15:20-25)

In this sense, Saul was incurably arrogant, but he was beautifully, loveably arrogant. He held people’s love. He held their loyalty, even when the darkness fell upon his mind and he became a dangerous man. Even after Saul made it his main mission in life to destroy and kill David, David never lost his love for Saul, or his sense of loyalty to him.

Because of Saul’s lovable but incurable arrogance, God rejected him as king of Israel. And God selected David to replace him.

I would like us to look at two important facts about Saul that we see in the stories of the end of his life. David saw these two things very clearly, and responded accordingly, and I think this is a part of why the Bible says that David was a man after God’s own heart. (1 Samuel 13:14)

David knew these two facts; and the song he wrote and taught his people to sing carried the lesson to them, and to us. The lesson shows us what to care about, and what to love, and what to grieve for, and how to grieve for it, when it is lost.

The two facts are these: Saul was a sinner who went terribly wrong as a king and as a human being; and Saul was glorious and beautiful as a king and as a human being.

The lament, the grieving song of David, in most translations begins something like this: “Your glory (your beauty) O Israel lies slain on your heights.” (1 Samuel 1:19) The glory or beauty in this song is Saul; or Saul and Jonathan, both. To David, both Saul and Jonathan were glorious and beautiful.

No one had caused David more suffering, and grief, and fear, and confusion than Saul. But Saul was beautiful and glorious to him. David himself tells us this.
This is very strange. It seems crazy, but it is very important.

And not anticipating or understanding this about David’s relationship to Saul cost one young man his life. The young man who looted the body of Saul in order to bring David the royal crown and the royal arm-band hoped for a reward with his report of Saul’s death. He also must have believed that he might get an even bigger reward by claiming to have been the one who killed Saul, because Saul was David’s greatest enemy. But the young man was dead wrong. David’s love for Saul was a mystery, but it was absolutely real.

Eugene Peterson takes the Hebrew word that almost every translation gives as glory, or beauty, and he translates it as “gazelle”; that fleet-footed, sure-footed, curvy-horned beast. And he is correct. It really is the word that the Israelites used as the name for that creature. The nearest I can get to why the other translators don’t translate it this way is that this name for gazelle also is used to describe other things that are glorious or beautiful.

The interesting thing about this word for gazelle is that it is also a love word. It was used in Hebrew love poetry. The Old Testament book of the Song of Solomon is a love poem, or love song. It is a song (or almost a miniature opera) about a lover and his beloved. Solomon wrote it as a wedding song for himself and one of his wives.

It has come to symbolize the love between the Lord and Israel, the love between Christ and his church, between God and his people. In this love song, the lover and his beloved use this word for gazelle to describe their feelings for each other. (Song of Solomon 2:9, 17; 4:5; 7:3) The lover says to his beloved: “Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twins fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies.”

Since this is true, it gives us a strange way of thinking about other people. What if David, looking at Saul, saw in Saul what the lover sees in his beloved; saw what God sees in his people; and sees in us? And what if we, looking at God, could see the same thing back?

I have never seen a gazelle. I have seen deer, and elk, and I have seen antelope. Think of the thrill of watching a deer run up the side of a mountain. What do you see? Strength! Energy! Determination! Grace! Beauty! Wildness and passion! Something that makes your heart stir within you! Something that creates a passion in your heart!

What if we saw that in God; and what if God saw that in us? It would be the stuff of a love song. This is something that David felt toward Saul, and Jonathan, and God.
The lament of David for Saul and Jonathan is a love song, and David commanded his people to learn this love song, this grieving song by heart. David wanted his people to see what he saw, and grieve as he grieved.

First and most of all, David wanted to grieve; and he wanted his people to grieve as he did.

David’s song of grief, his lamentation, came to him word by word and note by note. Composing this song was part of David’s process of grieving. Once written, he would not put it away in a box. He would sing it. He would while away his time in singing his lament.

And his people would do the same. Their minds had the discipline of learning things by heart quickly. Still, it would take them time to hear the song and learn it. “OK let us hear that song one more time. OK, now we will try to sing along.”

The song would haunt their hours. One of them would sing it in one of their little stone houses, packed so close together in their villages, and everyone in the house would hear and join in, and the neighbors would hear, and join in, as well.

Paul says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”(Romans 12:15) We have the problem of not knowing how to be happy when we ought to be happy. That is a real problem. But we also don’t know how to be sad, and weep, and grieve, when we ought. When we have lost something, or even more, lost someone, we need to take time to weep and grieve.

There is often so much to do in a time of loss and, in a way, it is a relief to have so many things to do; to bring order and get things done. But when those things are done there must be time to grieve, and not to hide from what has happened by just keeping busy.

There is nothing in this lamentation of David but grief; nothing but grief, and sorrow, and pain. There is no struggling for an explanation. There is no trying to figure things out. There is no seeking for the meaning of the loss. There is no seeking of comfort in the lament.

I think that to truly grieve one realizes that one cannot really comfort oneself. At least our own efforts at self-comfort don’t work very well. When something or someone has been lost, it is only our job to grieve that loss. It is God’s job to comfort us.

When Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” (Matthew 5:4) it is a promise that will be kept. Jesus is the king of the kingdom of God and he will bring the comfort in his own way. It is alright for us to mourn until that comfort comes.

David and all the people of Israel had suffered a terrible defeat when Saul and his army were destroyed and routed by the Philistines. There was a lot to be angry about; and there was even more to fear. But there is no anger or fear toward the Philistines in David’s lamentation. There is only the thought: “Oh those Philistines. Don’t talk to them. Don’t even think what they might be doing.”
David, and his family and friends, had suffered relentless danger and loss from Saul. But there is no anger toward Saul.

Jonathan had been David’s best friend, and David would never have another like him. But there is nothing in David’s lamentation about any regret for a friendship cut short, or any regret for never being able to repay Jonathan for the many times he had saved David’s life and spoken up for him.

David taught his people to grieve without anger, or fear, or regret. Saul and Jonathan would never be seen or heard again in this life, and this was a loss of great worth, and glory, and beauty. The gazelles had gone.

On a larger scale, the losses, the tragedies, the disasters, the great evils that happen in this world cause a lot of fear and anger, but they seldom cause us grief and sorrow. If we knew how to grieve, and mourn, and lament these things, we might be wiser and know what to do, or know what we cannot do. Nations that know how to mourn and lament their losses and dangers, instead of being ruled by fear or anger, are likely to be wiser and healthier.

Those who know how to grieve, and mourn, and lament are the ones who know how to keep on loving. Anger, fear, and regret make us forget what it means to love and to be thankful for the gifts that we have been given. Anger, fear, and regret have nothing to do with love, and nothing to do with faith in the presence of the living God.

In all his ups and downs, in all his successes and failures, David lived in the presence of the living God. He lived a “God-impacted life”.

David could look at Saul and see the gifts of God in him. He could see that God had touched Saul and had a purpose for his life.

David made a lot of mistakes but he teaches us, through his lamentation, to see a God-impacted, God-touched world. The lamentation he sang doesn’t even mention God, but it sees the glory and beauty that God put in Saul; and that God still puts in this world where we live.
Jesus wept at the tomb of h
is friend Lazarus, even though he knew that he was going to bring Lazarus back to life, because Jesus, who is God in the flesh, sees his own gifts and their great value. Jesus sees the gifts of Lazarus, and Lazarus’ family and friends, and community they belong to, and the ugliness evil, and the ugliness of death. Even though death is a part of the rhythm of a fallen world and serves a valuable purpose in that world, something in us knows that death is not the way things are supposed to be.

We live in a world that God so loved, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) Jesus, weeping at the tomb of his friend, shows us the face of God. Jesus shows us that there is a grief and mourning in the heart of God for a fallen world, and for us as fallen people.

The cross and the resurrection are God’s answer to his own grief, and to ours. The cross and the resurrection are the place where the Lord faces the causes of grief and loss, in sin and death, and the Lord defeats them, and begins the new kingdom of God.

We have all caused great harm and grief in our own ways; yet we are all glories, and beauties. We are God’s gazelles, God’s beloveds.

If we knew how to see a God-touched world, then we would see what made David lament for Saul, and what made Jesus weep at the tomb of Lazarus. We would take our time to do our job and fully mourn our losses, and our sins as well; and those of our neighbors, and of the whole world. We would not distract ourselves from caring, and we would not be distracted by our anger, fear, or regret.

If we learn from David’s lamentation, then we will begin to know how our griefs can be a part of God’s presence. We will meet our losses with a God-impacted life. Our lamentations will become part of a new love song.

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