A DIFFICULT CHOICE
2 SAMUEL 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; PSALM 130; EPHESIANS 4:25
August 13, 2000 by Tad Mitsui
Once I had to fire a person who was a friend of mine. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. She was a creative person in the wrong job. After a thorough review of her performance, the committee recommended that I dismiss her. She has now been in the right job for eight years in the church. She is doing excellent work, and she is most happy. But of course, at the time of her dismissal, she felt I had betrayed her as a friend. To dismiss her was a most difficult decision. At the time, I was not sure at all whether I was doing the right thing or not.
Life would be a lot easier, if everything was clearly marked as right and wrong, good and bad, black and white, big and small. Too many situations fall in grey areas. Often, our only response can be, "It all depends." The choice King David had to make about his rebellious son Absalom was such a difficult one. A good looking and popular son rebelled against him and his kingdom. King David even had to flee for his life on barefoot in the dark of the night. Today”s Psalm was said to have been written by David as he remembered the night when he climbed a mountain in tears to escape his son Absalom, who was after his life. He loved his son, but his son was destroying his kingdom. His most trusted friends were urging King David to crush his son”s rebellion. He prayed, using gut wrenching words, "From the depth of my despair I call to you, Lord. Hear my cry to you, Lord, listen to my call for help!" These are the words of a man who didn”t know what to do.
David didn”t know what to think. He was in despair not because he was facing his own death at the hands of his own son. He was in despair because of the difficult choice he had to make between his son”s life and the welfare of his people. If he had to save his people from massive deaths and destruction, he had to kill his own son. But he could not bare the thought of losing yet another son – he had already lost two sons under wretched circumstances. He despaired because of his love for his son. So he made the wrong decision. He asked his generals to crush the rebellion, but to keep his son alive. The death of Absalom was too difficult a thing to choose. The generals, however, ignored the king”s order, in order to save the kingdom from further turmoil.
However, the story of David and Absalom gets more complicated if you read the whole story from Chapter 13. Before the relationship between Absalom and David came to a tragic climax, there were a series of sordid incidents; incest between siblings, a murder of a brother by another, etc. The whole story of Absalom and David is so juicy that any afternoon TV soap opera looks like an innocent children”s program in comparison. There was so much history between the father and the son that one comes to understand how difficult it must have been for King David to make the right decision.
What then is the point of this story? Why did the writer of the Book of Samuel think that this particular story was worth recording for posterity? What lesson did he want to give us? One of them lessons I see in the story is this: it is telling us that life is so rich that no simple answer can cover all the situations of life. We do ourselves a grave injustice, if we look for a clear cut and simple answer all the time, because life is much more complex. Life is more complicated and wonderful than we can ever imagine. Because God has created such a rich world for us, we need patience to live with ambiguity and to appreciate it. It is love that makes us patient to truly enjoy God”s lavish world.
Once I visited the cleanest country I had ever been to, and met the most honest people I had ever seen. Any trash left on the street was picked up by someone instantly. People were so honest that even a pencil left in a hotel room by accident was delivered to you two days later, after you travelled hundreds of miles. Everything was clearly understood as right or wrong, and everybody knew it. Any offence against this strict code of ethics was dealt with by harsh and instant justice, and often by execution. It was the Communist China in 1978, when it was under its most oppressive regime. I also remember breathing a sign of relief when I got on the plane to leave China.
If we look into the depth of our minds, we don”t really want a clear and instant judgements. We live in a rich and complicated world for that. We need the kind of loving patience that lets us take time to explore many options, and gives us a second chance. We need understanding even when we make a wrong decision. I heard a medical doctor speaking about the biggest problem most physicians were facing today. "The doctor has to make an instant diagnosis and prescribe remedies immediately. But what people really need is your time and the touch of your hand," he said. Then he went on to speak about his own experience as a patient in an emergency room; he was in agony. A friend of his looked in, who was a prominent physician himself. He could have prescribed a remedy right away. It was an easy job. But he didn”t do anything of the kind. He was a friend. So he held the first doctor”s hand, looking very concerned and stayed with him some time. The first doctor said to the interviewer, "I felt a whole lot better by the time he left the room. This experience showed me what was fundamentally wrong with the practice of medicine today."
Jesus was confronted by a crowd who brought a woman accused of adultery. They demanded an instant judgement of her case. Jesus didn”t speak for a long time. He just sat silently in front of the woman and doodled on the ground with a stick. When he finally spoke, he said, "The one who has never committed sin should throw the first stone." Silence followed again. People left one by one leaving Jesus and the accused woman alone. Jesus said, "I will not punish you either. Go. Don”t make the same mistake again." Jesus showed his love for people by not passing judgement quickly. David acted for the love of his son and ignored the welfare of thousands of people, after long hours of despair and indecision. Was he wrong? We don”t know. I believe that this is one of those murky questions on which we would need to spend a long time in prayer in order to find an answer. Let us not be quick to condemn others. God is not quick to judge, but patiently waits for us to turn to him and pray, "From the depth of my despair, I cry to you." God”s patience means that we don”t always need to be right or know the answer immediately. Whatever decisions face us, God will not desert us. Thanks be to God.