Unmanageable

Unmanageable (CaD 1 Sam 28) Wayfarer

Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy? The Lord has done what he predicted through me. The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today.
1 Samuel 28:16-18

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” is a quote that has been misattributed to Albert Einstein for many years. Etymologists find no evidence of Einstein ever saying the words. It was fascinating for me to learn that the earliest documented uses of the quote are from the Twelve Step group Al-anon, particularly with regard to the second step: “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

In yesterday’s chapter, I made the case that David’s flight to live among his enemies was prompted by the realization that Saul would never give up trying to kill him. Why? Because multiple times Saul had spoken words of repentance and sworn oaths to do so, and every time he goes right back to doing what he’s sworn he won’t do. It’s just like the insanity of addiction.

If you go to a Twelve Step meeting, you’ll hear stories of lives that have become unmanageable. Individuals speak of addictive insanity that has brought them to the brink of death and lives that have completely self-destructed. That’s where I observe Saul being in today’s chapter, only Saul’s problem is not alcoholism or drug addiction. Saul is addicted to his own pride, greed, and envy.

When the Philistines line up for battle with Saul and his army, Saul becomes afraid. He seeks some word or sign from God of what will happen, but God is silent. Samuel is dead. The high-priest, Abiathar, has joined up with David. Saul has no prophet in his service. In desperation, Saul hires a medium to conjure up the spirit of Samuel even though he knows that such an act is against God’s law. It’s just like when Saul crossed the line and offered sacrifices that only a priest was allowed to make. His fear drives him to cross the line and do what he knows he shouldn’t do, just like he’s always done expecting a different outcome.

Samuel’s spirit does appear and reiterates the very thing he had told Saul before. Saul’s repeated disobedience and his refusal to admit that his own actions have led his life to become unmanageable and to submit to God, who could restore his sanity, his own actions and choices have sealed his fate. He will die in the upcoming battle, and David will succeed him as king just as had been prophesied.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself looking back on my own life journey and the times my life had become unmanageable because of my foolish choices. It’s easy to read Saul’s story and shake my head in judgment, except I can’t. There’s another famous quote that I can make my own: “There, but for the grace of God, goes Tom Vander Well.” Saul is a tragic figure. The best thing about tragedies, even the real ones I hear in a Twelve Step meeting, is that they can help inform my own life and my own choices.

I don’t want to be a Saul. I would rather be a David.

The determining factor is what I choose to do with my own decisions, actions, and words today.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

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