Thursday, December 29, 2016

No Guarantees

For the Christian, winning is not guaranteed.

Oh, of course it’s guaranteed in the long-term. We’ve read the ending of a story that has already been written, edited and published to the world. It is a done deal. All is to be summed up in Christ, and those of us who belong to him are destined to be glorified with him and united with him for eternity.

That’s definitely what you’d call a win. Might not happen in your lifetime or mine, but our long-term prospects are guaranteed.

Short-term is another story. Today may hold what appears to be a resounding loss.

Mercenary Work

David’s general Joab went out to war on behalf of God’s people, Israel. He hadn’t asked for the fight that lay before him. Hanun, the new king of Ammon, was feeling his oats. He took some advice from the wrong people and found himself at odds with David. Rather than do the smart thing and appeal for peace, Hanun hired 33,000 mercenaries to support him and settled in for a prolonged battle. David responded to this poke in the eye by sending Joab and the army.

Now, sometimes it’s better to ignore a provocation. If the Ammonites and their mercenaries had been marching in force on Jerusalem, the question of whether or not God wanted his people to fight back would have been academic. Strap on your swords, boys, and let’s get it done.

But we can probably debate David’s wisdom in sending in his troops against an entrenched enemy. David had enjoyed a good relationship with Hanun’s father. He had not been looking for a scrap. He was forced to make a judgment call: Ignore Hanun’s blatant nose-thumbing, and maybe risk the Ammonites becoming overconfident, which might well lead to future raids on peaceful Israelite settlements.

Or not. It could have gone either way.

No Way to Know

There was no real way to know. And there’s no real way for us to know, since the inspired writer of 2 Samuel does not editorialize about David’s decision. He doesn’t tell us David was being unspiritual, or that he failed to consult God about the situation. We are left to draw our own conclusions, just the way things often happen in our own lives.

Hey, some provocations we can let slide, and probably should. But some fights pick themselves. To fail to respond to certain sorts of provocations is simply … to fail.

Example: You’re a Christian father. Your teenage daughter, fumbling in her purse for a Kleenex, inadvertently drops a small bag of pot and a package of birth control pills on the kitchen floor right in front of you. Now there’s a conversation that HAS to be had, like it or not. You may be the most peaceful soul going, but you’d best not let that sort of thing slide by.

And like David and Joab, you enter the fight without a clear sense of what might happen, without an oracle, without an unambiguous rejoinder from Urim and Thummim, without a specific word from God to address the particulars of the situation, and especially without any guarantee things will end well.

You’re left applying whatever principles you’ve managed to derive from God’s word as best you can in the moment. Better than nothing, for sure, but principles can be applied different ways by different believers. They’re just not as directly on point as we’d often like them to be. And remember, short-term wins for the people of God are simply not sure things.

So you take your best shot.

Win, Lose or Draw

And you may not win today’s fight. Your daughter may give you an earful of profanity, grab her backpack and her toothbrush, and go shack up with that older boyfriend you didn’t know about.

More likely the results will be inconclusive. You destroy the pot, get no clear answer about the birth control pills, and your daughter goes to her room crying and locks the door on you. Not ideal, but maybe better than the worst-case scenario.

Or maybe it’s a good day. Maybe you have that talk you should have had a long time ago, and for a while at least she seems to be coming around.

There’s no way to know up front, is there? If there were, you’d pick and choose your moments as a parent a lot more effectively.

What Seems Good to Him

I like Joab’s word to the Israelites as they prepared for battle, surrounded by enemies:
“Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to him.”
Not “May the Lord do what seems good to US”. Not even “May the Lord do what we expect”. Definitely not “May the Lord do what will solve the problem quickest”. That would be nice, sure. We hope for it, absolutely. But what’s much more important is that we acknowledge before the Lord that we want him to do what seems good to him. Whatever that may be, even if it involves a lengthy emotional pummeling for you and me.

I know, I know, most of us would rather have the short-term fix. Who needs the stress that comes with agonizing over and repeatedly praying for an errant child year after year? But maybe your daughter needs to hit rock bottom before she’ll ever ask for help. The Lord knows that. Or again, maybe all she needs is to know today that you care, and that you’re enforcing the house rules out of love and concern for her. The Lord knows that. God forbid, maybe she’s a cautionary tale for her younger sister and a growing experience for you and your wife. We hope not, but yes, the Lord knows that too.

But whatever the outcome, what seems good to the Lord is always best in the long term. It is what seems good to the Lord in your life and mine that will, in its small way, contribute to the eternal victory we know is coming.

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