What does it mean to be loved of God? God called David a man after His own heart -- a man anointed for work that belied his former station as a humble shepherd. We may also sit in our armchairs and question God's choice when we read of his sinful failings: At least Saul was a man who commanded fear and respect by virtue of his singular physical features, so if both sinned so egregiously, why should one gain favor in God's eyes over the other?
It is an important question in the life of a sinner like me. As I examine my life and wonder how I can get so comfortable with my sin, so callous to God's love, and so apathetic in my walk, I wonder why I can even be called a son. What if I am really just a Saul, keeping my image untarnished, displaying my appearance of zeal and holiness as a substitute for humility before God. If, as I act the part of godliness, I am also not humble before His face, then I know I am not fit for work in his Kingdom, much less any kind of leadership.
Sadly this question is often only answered over time -- answered only after we slip and slide (sometime free-fall) into our sin, to brink as it were. Do you know what brinkmanship is? If you are somewhat familiar with Cold War history, you will understand it as the nerve a leader had to display when he placed the future of humanity on the line. Step by step, the arms races built until the majority of those two countries lived under the shadow of nuclear holocaust. The hatred between these two polarized nations was so great, each leader had to be willing to threaten the worst. With fingers ready at the trigger, they made sure the enemy believed him willing to use his terrible weapon.
Even so, I sometimes think God must play the ultimate game of brinkmanship with his wretched and rebellious children. Here we are, playing with fire, spreading the smear of sin onto the floor of his temple, provoking him to his face and unwilling to let go of the cheap thrills and trifles that please our flesh. Like sheep, we press the limits, taking step after step toward the outer limits of His grasp, pretending all is well. How will the hardness of our hearts ever be broken and reformed into His design if we constantly mock his grace, acknowledging perhaps now and then that we have a problem on our hands, but not understanding what true repentance must look like?
We are like Hamlet's murderous uncle, recognizing fully his sin after killing his brother and praying fervently for mercy, but shrinking from true repentance, unwilling to give up the tarnished crown he stole.
And so we press on, thinking there will be a way out just down the road, just around the corner -- an easy hop back onto the straight and narrow -- not understanding that the fork we took in the road has now turned us completely around toward the path of destruction. But God allows us to proceed -- with perfect nerve and control he brings us to where we can see up close what our life can and should look like but for his grace. Then, when we finally reach the brink of our soul's holocaust, we are presented with naught but two choices: to smile and say "I think you're bluffing," or to wither in surrender before his gaze and the destruction before us.
What did Saul do at the brink. I tremble when read his words and see myself. I can't help but think that he lost the kingdom, not for his sin of omission in keeping Agag alive a prisoner or his greed in keeping the spoils unspoiled. Rather, God saw in his heart that which Samuel the prophet only discovered afterward. First we find that he has set up a monument to himself. Then as Samuel confronts him, he flatters as if it will distract from the evidence of his sin. Next he blames the people, a strange thing for someone so imposing as himself to have lost control of them. Fourteen verses later he finally blurts out what sounds like an honest confession: "I have sinned..." But with this additional line: "...because I feared the people and obeyed their voice."
Scripture doesn't confirm whether the people were truly at fault as he claimed. But since we do not hear of a judgment passed them, we must doubt the honesty of the king even here.
Finally, when Samuel turns to go, Saul desperately clutches at his robe. This is perhaps more personally convicting to me than anything. Instead of keeping his humble pose upon learning of the judgment, he reacts with childish selfishness, like Esau crying out for a lost blessing: "Bless me, even me also, O my father!" Even at the brink, the foolish sinner despises the chastening of the Lord. Do I react with the visceral regret of lost favor and status before man, instead of humbly seeking the grace of God with no reserved false piety?
What did David do differently? Do we see in him any false attempts to justify himself when confronted with his sin? His only reaction to Nathan the prophet was to state simply: "I have sinned against the Lord." Not against Uriah, Bathsheba, or Israel, but "against the Lord." That's all. Psalm 51 reiterates this mindset:
"Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight."
Does he stop there? No, more than anything he desires to be rid of his sin, to be righteous before God, to be named as a true son:
"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me."
This morning, my pastor preached from Hosea where Israel's sin is illustrated by marital unfaithfulness. His point was that we reject the love of God when we persist in our sin, just as Gomer rejected Hosea's love.
And so God brings a complaint of offended love against us. Will you hear when God brings his complaint against you?