Thursday, February 23, 2006

Let's Hear It for Adversity! (Column Version)

[I write a column for a local chain of newspapers. I adapted an earlier post, lopping off some words here and tightening up the prose there, to turn it into the latest submission.]

One of my favorite writers recently quoted assassinated black leader, Malcom X, who said, “If you can come through the snow and the rain and the sleet, you know you can make it easily when the sun is out and everything is all right.”

I'm not so sure about that. The sunny days when things were going well have usually been the times when I have made my worst decisions. It seems that when I'm more hard-pressed, I'm more sensible and as a result, call on help from God and from others. In the sunny days, I get full of myself and neglect to seek the counsel I need. Disaster has usually been the result.

When I speak of disasters, I'm referring to everything from decisions that were simply stupid to actions that were sinful violations of God's will. (Something I've often only realized after I woke up and smelled the hubris.)

In the latter category, the classic--and extreme--example is Israel's King David. David is described in the Bible as a man after God's own heart. For decades, he endured being attacked by adversaries. But through all that adversity and challenge, David's God-shaped character shone. He was exemplary.

Then came years of relative ease when David grew lazy--physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet Israel still had its adversaries: the Philistines. It was the duty of the king, once spring-time made military operations possible, to lead the army into battle.

But one spring, David decided to stay in his palatial digs in Jerusalem and let the army go off to do the fighting. It was while doing this--fat, sassy, self-satisfied, living in sunny days--that David looked out from his heightened vantage point and saw a beautiful woman named Bathsheba bathing on her rooftop, as was the custom in those days. David sent for this woman to come to the palace.

Bathsheba, it turned out, was the wife of one of the soldiers serving in Israel's army. But Bathsheba became pregnant with David's child. David panicked. He didn't want a scandal.

He arranged for Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, to get a pass, supposedly to report to the king on how the battle was going. David was sure that Uriah would take advantage of the downtime to see his wife. They would do what husbands and wives do after not seeing one another for awhile, David reasoned, and it would appear that Uriah was the father of the baby in Bathsheba's womb. David would get off scott-free, as the saying goes.

But it was considered a point of honor with soldiers in Israel's army in those days that if all of the army didn't have access to the comforts of home, no indvidual soldier would take advantage of them. Uriah was an honorable man. After the king insisted on filling his belly full of food and strong drink at the palace, Uriah didn't go to Bathsheba. He slept on the stoop outside the king's palace overnight.

Appalled that his plan had failed, David sent Uriah back to battle with a note to the commander. In the note, David directed that while the enemy was engaged, things were to be arranged so that Uriah was killed in battle.

Ease and the lack of adversity in his life had caused David to commit adultery, for which he was unrepentant, and then to murder an innocent man. Later, David was confronted for his sins and he did genuinely repent. God forgave him and David rendered faithful service to God and to Israel after that. But the rest of David's life was marked by tragedy and difficulties of his own making.

I don't like experiencing adversity. But I'm wary of ease.

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