Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Stumbling Block of The Bible: Seeing Myself in King Saul

"The very stumbling-block of the Bible is its utter simplicity: the mysteries of God are framed into the daily life of average men, and the whole story may seem to be all too human.  Just as the Incarnate Lord himself appeared to be an ordinary man."
George Florovsky

I am rereading the biblical history books (1,2 Samuel; 1,2, Kings [=1,2,3,4, Kings] and 1,2 Chronicles) in the Septuagint translation (Orthodox Study Bible).  It's a bloody mess.  When Florovsky says "the mysteries of God are framed into the daily life of average men," he is talking about average men who lived in a very bloody world.  Or, more accurately, in a world where the bloodletting was close at hand, not kept at a distance by economically segregated communities, massive prison populations, and selective immigration policies.  

It is easy for me to judge harshly the violence of the "average men" during the reign of Kings Saul and David.  I've never been faced with an invading army that is willing to let everyone in my city live as their slaves only after they blind our right eyes (1 Samuel/ 1Kings 11:2).  Whether or not I would have found the grace to turn the other cheek (the other eye?), I do not know.  Whether or not I would have found the grace to watch my loved ones blinded, then sold to the  highest bidder to be used however it pleased them, I do not know.  I do know, however, that the Native American proverb holds true here: "Don't judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins."

But even here, in this very bloody world of the biblical history, God is not absent.  A man, Saul, is small in his own eyes--until he gets a taste of power.  Once Saul is esteemed a hero, he takes to himself the priesthood too, presuming to offer sacrifice in the name of expediency instead of waiting (as told) for the Prophet Samuel to arrive.  Instead of obeying Samuel in the specific command to "wipe out" the Amalekites (men, women, children and animals), Saul saves the king and the best sheep and cattle for sacrifice.

This last and greatest failure of Saul intrigues me.  Again, Saul takes on himself the role of the priest and builds an altar in Carmel and offered sacrifices.  Again, he explains to Samuel that it was a matter of expedience, "for the people."

How often have I let expedience drive me?  Samuel says of Saul's excuse that listening to (hearing) God and obeying God is better than sacrifice; that this sin (of not listening to God) is the same as divination (witchcraft) and idolatry (12:22,23).

Not listening to God is the same as witchcraft and idolatry?  Maybe I need to take it easy on the Wicca folks too.  Maybe I'm not too far from them.  How often do I let expediency hurry me into actions and words that I later realize are not appropriate, that are sinful?  Much more often than I'd like to admit.

My tendency, sometimes, to avoid times of quiet listening may be the cause of many of my sins.  I may, for the sake of expediency, hurry to do what seems popular, seems religious, seems urgent at the moment.  When I don't wait quietly, when I don't listen, I become like King Saul.  I may even commit sins that are as witchcraft and idolatry.  

May God have mercy on me and teach me to listen.


Barbara said...

Fr. Michael,

I think listening or saying you are listening to God is tricky - especially for those who have been taught that listening to God means listening to your feelings. So many of us have also been harmed by assertions that begin with, "God told me..." How do you know you are hearing God? Sometimes I think it's better for me not to try listening on my own at all.

With regard to the "stumbling block of the Bible", I read a quote yesterday from a book about the persecution of Jews. One man in the midst of persecution says, "I wonder if they hate us so much because we gave them a Jesus they never really wanted".

Fr. Michael said...

Dear Barbara,
There's listening and then there's listening. The listening I was trained in as a Protestant was indeed emotional, rational, and often involved imagination or imaging. That is not how the Church teaches us to listen. There is a listening beyond words and beyond images, a "knowing in our knower." Generally, once such knowledge is put in words, it is perverted. And so to say, "God told me," is a very dangerous thing. For the very act of "translating" noetic perception into words and concepts radically defaces what was perceived.

For all of us, it is better not to listen at all in the first way. We must all learn to listen in the second way.

Great quote. Very perceptive.

Barbara said...

So mystical...but I'll leave it at that :)