college travels

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Value of Stories # 2

The stories of the Old and New Testaments help us to engage with others by offering us examples or ‘archetypes’ to follow (see entry#1 on 3rd Sept).

Everyone wants to live a significant life. We all want to be mourned when we die and to be remembered for having achieved something. We will look to achieve in one of four areas or in a combination of two or more of: warrior, sovereign, seer and lover.

In Saul we see an example of what happens when a warrior is made sovereign. Saul cannot handle the responsibility. He fought well and bravely to rescue the people of Jabesh when they were under threat, but he is unable to function well as a sovereign.

As king his job is to empower and inspire others. But Saul is never confident enough of his position to allow himself to be generous towards others and to trust them and release them for service. He mistrusts his own son Jonathan even though it would be hard to find a more loyal individual. And the second half of 1 Samuel is dominated by his mistrust of David, even though David proves his loyalty on several occasions.

Saul is insecure as sovereign and is fearful that his power will be handed over to someone better suited for leadership and so he acts not so much as sovereign but out of a ‘shadow’ form of the archetype. He acts as tyrant. There is no room in his administration for warriors like David, though he needs them to fight the Philistines. He fears that warriors may attract support and threaten his position as king. Nor is there room for seers so he does not follow through on Samuel’s advice to him and eventually Samuel is forced into a sort of retirement. He perhaps fears that a seer will expose his lack of ability and his unsuitability as king.

Saul teaches us that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Just because Saul made a good warrior does not automatically mean that he will make a good sovereign. We may, from time to time, be asked to work outside our preferences but we should expect that our best contribution to be according to the way that God has made us. This is likely to be in a way that builds on the experiences that he has brought us through and the personality and preferences that he’s uniquely gifted us with.

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  • I've been thinking a lot about this recently Andy. I think we often feel pressure to be something we're not, and it's very liberating to accept who we are and to live out the way God has formed us. Thanks for your thoughts, and for some good old Carl Jung.

    By Anonymous Andrew Cooper, at 10:40 am  

  • Andy,
    Saul did not choose to be king. God chose (a reluctant) Saul to be king. Are you saying that God made a mistake?
    My reading of the bible suggests that Saul's problem was not trusting God's choice for him to be king (or not) - not working "outside" his "preferences".

    By Anonymous Louise, at 9:22 pm  

  • Woo that’s a good point Louise. I can’t think of a short answer to it!

    If we are going to press this approach a bit further an continue to think of ourselves as characters in a story or (players on a stage as one playwright put it), then we would have to admit that there is a significant part of us that would like to be part of a neat, compact story with no inconsistencies, no ambiguity and no uncertainty.

    If we go further back in the story we see that as cosmic king, God commits to work with and through his covenant partner: in the image of God he created him. This is not changed after the fall. In fact it comes out even more clearly than ever through the covenant with Abraham. One of the things that the Bible story is doing, then, is showing us how God views this partnership.
    Samuel feels that God’s sovereignty has been compromised by the Israelites’ request to have a king (1Samuel 8:6). In a sense he is right (1Samuel 8:7).

    Samuel’s preference is to propose a future that re-emphasises God’s sovereignty. He presents a picture of human kingship that the people ought to reject (1Samuel 8:11-18). He denies them their choice in order to safeguard the story-line. In doing so he is trying to minimise inconsistency, ambiguity and uncertainty.

    Samuel’s proposal tried to safeguard God’s kingship. But in doing so it diminished the value of his partnership with his covenant people. Saul was the people’s choice (1Samuel 12:13) but God was prepared to work with that choice. He stood behind their choice by marking Saul out in culturally appropriate ways to be king (1Samuel 10:17-25) and by empowering him with his Spirit (1Samuel 10:1, 9).

    Preferences are just that: preferences. I prefer to gather information through the senses and to work rationally towards a solution. But there are times when I must work with insufficient or insubstantial data and I have to rely more on intuition. I have to work outside my preference. In terms of the story, Saul is comfortable as a warrior. He is a good warrior. His efforts at Jabesh reinforce that (1Samuel 11:1-11). The challenge for Saul will be to trust that just as God had used him as a warrior, so now he would use him as a sovereign.

    A challenge we all face as we grow up and mature is to learn to work outside our preferences. Those who are more reserved need to learn to let others in and to be willing to share their insights and opinions. Those that are more hands-on need to learn to let others take a turn. Those that are more impetuous need to recognise when it will be more beneficial to step back. And so on.

    The challenge for Saul is to set aside his personal preferences for the sake of the people that, as king, he has been called to serve. Saul’s problem was indeed not trusting God.

    So I think we are reading the text the same way, and the picture of God that emerges is not that he sometimes gets it wrong and makes mistakes. Nor is it of a sovereign who makes noises about partnership and covenant but does not follow through when it counts, the sort of leader who assigns roles to others but never hands over the reins. Rather, the picture that emerges is of a God who values covenant and partnership sufficiently to value our opinion and back our efforts.

    There is a challenge here for us, when we find ourselves in the sovereign role, whether or not it is our preferred way to serve. Is our leadership is more like God’s: empowering, supportive, equipping? Or is it more like Saul’s?

    By Blogger Andy Stirrup, at 3:03 pm  

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