Thursday, December 01, 2016

Doubling Down

KFC makes the single best sandwich in the history of the world, in my humble opinion.

If you haven’t heard this, prepare to be appalled: A Double Down is 541 calories of pure brilliance: bacon, two different kinds of melted cheese and the Colonel’s secret sauce in between (here’s the best part) two KFC Original Recipe chicken fillets. No bun. Just an artery-clogging, heart-stopping quantity of tasty deep-fried meat.

Fortunately the sandwich only shows up erratically on the KFC menu, usually for four weeks every year-and-a-half or so. If you need to justify consuming one, I recommend fasting the day before. And the day after. Or maybe for a week.

An Eloquent Refusal to Capitulate

Needless to say, it tastes amazing. In theory, I’m sure, the “Double Down” name was coined for the double fillet. More importantly, though, it speaks eloquently to the refusal of certain ornery members of the fast-food consuming public to capitulate to the outcry against salt, deep frying, fat and unhealthy eating generally. KFC has discontinued it twice since its introduction in 2010, but only because it’s not one of their higher-margin items.

But that’s what it means to double down: to take note of potential risk, danger or opposition, and then go right back to what you’re doing.

Presumption is as Iniquity

The prophet Samuel once warned King Saul that in the eyes of God “presumption is as iniquity and idolatry”. But presumption (Hebrew: patsar, meaning to “push”, “press” or “be insolent”) is maybe not the best English word to describe Saul’s refusal to accept God’s correction. The KJV uses the word “stubbornness”, which pretty much nails it.

Saul had doubled down.

Commanded by God to “devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed”, Saul had stopped short of obedience. Oh, he did the tough part — or at least the part most people would have found tough. He put to death men, women and children, including the most attractive Amalekite virgins, who in those days would usually have been kept aside for obvious reasons. But he spared the best of the livestock. And for some inexplicable reason, he also spared the Amalekite king.

Letting a handful of virgins live might at least have been a little more logically defensible than failing to put the sword to King Agag. Not worth losing a kingdom over, but at least understandable.

This was Saul’s original offence: the “rebellion” that Samuel declared was “as the sin of divination”, something God hates intensely. He failed to obey God’s word.

Making It Worse

But then Samuel confronts Saul, and says this:
“Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”
At this point, when directly confronted with one’s sin by a man of God, there is one correct response and one only. It goes something like this: “I’m wrong, I’m wrong, I’m sorry, forgive me. Um … did I mention I was wrong?” As Proverbs aptly puts it, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” A truly humble, contrite answer might not avoid the near-inevitable judgment for disobedience, but at least it would have the desirable effect of not making things worse.

But I HAVE Obeyed …

Saul didn’t do that. He doubled down instead:
“I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”
Wonderful. A fragrant bouquet of outright lies, excuses, blame and flimsy rationalizations. As pleasing to God as offering a sacrifice to idols. Saul took what was already a losing situation and found a way to humiliate himself even further.

Ever done that? I’m sure I have. I’m not going to share any examples, but it’s one of those things we all know immediately when we do it. Someone confronts us about a sin in our lives and we stubbornly refuse to hear the voice of God in their words.

That’s the “presumption” the ESV refers to. It’s doubling down on a losing hand.

A Lesson Unlearned

Sadly, Saul never stopped doubling down. Told that his kingdom was to be stripped from him and given to another, and told unequivocally that God would not change his mind on that subject, he continued to behave as if God remained on his side while pursuing David and trying to take his life for no reason greater than envy and fear:
“Now it was told Saul that David had come to Keilah. And Saul said, ‘God has given him into my hand, for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars.’ ”
Imagine that! Here’s Saul fancying that God, who had rejected him, was actually involved in helping him trap and murder his innocent replacement. Talk about egregiously misunderstanding — and worse, publicly misrepresenting — the character of God!

Even more likely, Saul knew full well what he was doing, but felt compelled to try to justify his wicked pursuit of David in the eyes of his own followers. He just kept doubling down.

Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain

Here he is doing it again:
“Then the Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah, saying, ‘Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hachilah, which is south of Jeshimon? Now come down, O king, according to all your heart’s desire to come down, and our part shall be to surrender him into the king’s hand.’ And Saul said, ‘May you be blessed by the Lord, for you have had compassion on me.’ ”
Saul is actually brazen enough to use the Lord’s name to encourage those who were willing to betray an innocent man to his death. “May you be blessed by Jehovah.” Yeah, right. Talk about taking the Lord’s name in vain!

All the Wrong Moves

If it sounds like I’m being hard on Saul, it’s because his moves are all too familiar to me. I understand the choices he made and the reasons he made them. I have been subject to the same sorts of fears and at times in my life have been characterized by similar patterns of bad decision-making.

I think of the parable Jesus told the chief priests and elders, who, like Saul, were about to double down on a bad decision:
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?”
The answer to that last question is so obvious even the chief priests and elders, for all their intractable and selfish opposition, were capable of figuring it out.

It’s the first one: the son who didn’t double down.

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