Have you ever sat in a movie that seemed to be going a bit too long? There comes a time in every story (or sermon, for that matter) where one’s circumstantial realities become stronger than the storyline. It is the moment when you realize that your back is stiff, your stomach is hungry or your mind—no longer engrossed in the moment—latches on to other concerns. Without warning you suddenly find yourself more aware of the movie and less involved in the story. That’s kind of what has happened to me last week in our Bible journey.
We have been reading about kings and their exploits for so long now that, rather than being drawn into the story, I find myself pondering the specific details of the story, and the details continue to be so…..terrible! Take 2 Chronicles 21 and 22 for instance. “When Jehoram established himself firmly…he put all his brothers to the sword.” Later the Philistines and Arabs “invaded [Judah] and carried off all the goods found in the king’s palace, together with his sons and wives.” In verse 20 we read how Jehoram “passed away to no one’s regret.” His son Ahaziah, the only surviving son from the earlier raid, was made king. When he died his mother “proceeded to destroy the whole royal family of the house of Judah” so that she could establish herself as sole ruler. All this pain, loss, injustice and struggle is found in two short chapters and it is only the tip of the iceberg!
This is horrible stuff and the truly sobering part is that it is true! It is not a storyline in a Marvel Comics movie using CGI special effects. This kind of pain and loss is woven throughout the fabric of the biblical narrative. From one perspective, it is repulsive and it leads some to conclude that any God that would allow this sort of carnage is not a God worth following. I understand this response and have, at times, pondered this myself. But there is another perspective that continues to deepen in my life.
I find it interesting that the biblical writers did not choose to soften this story at all. I mean, if the goal of their writing is to show the compassionate love that God has for His people, I think they would be tempted to whitewash these moments of horror and loss. The fact that the authors chose to include them and lamented their existence (“How long O Lord?” Psalm 6:3; 13:1) is instructive to me. It tells me that the world is filled with sin and that I am filled with sin. It warns me that I am not exempt from sin’s impact or immune from its influence.
Even if I follow God, bad things can still happen to me. Elisha was God’s mighty prophet and yet he died of an illness (2 Kings 13:14). Righteous king Uzziah was afflicted with leprosy and had to live in a separate house (2 Kings 15:5). Sin not only impacts me, it also influences me. Given the right circumstances I, too, could become a King Asa—starting out well but in the end chucking the faith by choosing to “brutally oppress” people as I rely on my own resources instead of God (2 Chronicles 16:10, 12). Or what might happen to me if my “Jehoiada”—my primary godly influence—was removed from my life? Could I really keep the faith on my own or would I drift by following the counsel of those who had my ear (2 Chronicles 24:1-2, 17)?