Thursday, May 9, 2019

Undue Honor

Absalom, David's son, committed some truly despicable acts, many of which have already come up this week as we discuss this section of the Old Testament. He attempted to usurp the throne from David and make himself king; he slept with his father's concubines on the very same room where his father slept with another man's wife; he gathered a following among the people. These are sins for which he was excommunicated by his father and then eventually brought back. 

And then a battle breaks out among Israel. 

Joab, David's faithful commander, leads the troops out to squash the rebellion and David has just one command for him: whatever you do, don't kill Absalom. 

Don't. Kill. Absalom.

Okay, boss. Got it. Don't kill your son.

Then, Joab goes out and kills Absalom. Yes, really. (You can read this in 2 Samuel 19.) 

He comes back to David and says he's got great news, fantastic news, wonderful news, the best news that David is ever going to hear! ...Absalom is dead. 

This is terrible news to David. First, he told his troops specifically not to kill Absalom, so he's been disobeyed. Second, his son is now dead making this the third son he's lost; regardless of what Absalom has done, he's still David's son and that's a loss too great to bear for a father. And third, now, he's got to figure out what to say to the troops. 

He's not exactly generous with his words for his armies. In fact, he's so distraught and upset that he doesn't do much as a commander-in-chief at this point. Then, Joab comes to him and says something completely perplexing:

You're discouraging your troops. They went out and fought a great battle for you today and killed your enemy, and you should be rejoicing and congratulating them. Since you haven't, they are filled with shame and don't know what to do with themselves. You need to get it together, David, and honor them. Or at the very least, thank them.

In other words, your troops went out and did the one thing you told them not to do, and now, they are discouraged and upset and ashamed because you haven't thanked them for it yet. Don't you think you should thank your troops for disobeying you and killing your son? Not really?

It's bizarre, right? And yet, it's something that we can relate to, particularly in our current day and age. We're living in a world where we're told we have to acknowledge, affirm, and celebrate every decision that others make with their lives, even if it runs perfectly counter to what we believe is right or good or best. We have to congratulate and thank others for doing what they do, even if we don't agree with it or even if it causes us distress or damages something core to our being. Otherwise, they might feel shame. And, well, we can't have that. 

This puts most of us, like David, in a tough spot. On the one hand, we are messengers of Christ and want to bring real, legitimate, awesome love into this world, just as He both commanded and demonstrated for us. On the other hand, there are many in the world who think this means we love everything and think everything that everyone does is great and awesome. 

The truth is that some things aren't great news; they aren't even good news. Some things aren't worth congratulating or celebrating. Some things cut to the core of who we are, and we don't have to stand up and say thank you for these things. Sorry, but we don't. We don't have to put on a brave face or pull up our "big girl panties" or whatever you want to say about it and pretend that it's awesome that someone just did something we're not thankful for. 

And listen, don't read into this more than I'm saying here. It's easy to read into it the hot-button issues of the day or our personal perspectives or whatever it is, but I'm not talking just about massive social movements; I'm talking about even the little things that happen every day. Things we don't often even think about, except to know that they annoy us and yet, we feel the tension of being expected to appreciate them anyway. 

You don't have to appreciate everything in this world. Some things are just broken. Some things are just wrong. Some things are just perverse and damaging and demeaning and degrading. Some things are just bad news, even for those of us who have the Good News. That doesn't mean that we stand in judgment of everything or that we thump our Bibles on street corners and condemn sinners to Hell; that's not our job. But it's also okay for us to stand here and say, you know what? No. No, I'm not going to say thank you. No, I'm not going to pretend that's awesome. No, I'm not going to affirm what you've done that runs counter to what I believe at my most fundamental about what is good and right and God-glorifying. 

It's okay to not be thankful for bad news. Even if someone else feels shame over that. Jesus has an answer for shame. It's okay. 

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