I’m on pilgrimage at the moment. I’m leading a group of 7 different Presbyterian churches through Israel and the West Bank on my 6th visit to this land the church calls “Holy.” The other day we were in the wilderness down by the Dead Sea at a national park called En Gedi.
At the site you can see caves on the hills all around where David hid from King Saul. David’s on again, off again relationship with King Saul found him at times playing music to sooth the King in his court, other moments dodging spears or hiding in the fields waiting for Jonathan’s help or in this case – taking refuge in a desolate place with an opportunity to strike the King dead one day while he stands at the urinal. Who knew a bathroom could be so dangerous? My Israeli friend Shimon tells me one way to translate the passage is that King Saul went into the cave to “anoint his legs.” I like that. It’s in the cave at that makeshift urinal that David has his chance to strike King Saul. But David hesitates, he respects God’s anointed and does not strike. The conversation that follows hints at reconciliation and forgiveness. But this is the real world, this is the Bible and characters here are messed up.
David is complicated. He’s human. He’s a sinner. He’s living and leading in a fallen world. David’s story is so appealing because it’s a story of human relationships, friendships made and broken. David’s story is a mess. Do you know anyone who’s life is a mess? I do. I’m a pastor. I’ve spent my whole adult life leading churches and equipping leaders for churches. Our best Reformed doctrine has to be total human depravity. It both sets the bar low on human expectation and looks for God to lift us out of the muck and mire of our sinfulness. As Karl Barth is rumoured to have said, “a high Christology includes a low anthropology.” Isn’t it interesting that young David hiding in the caves of En Gedi would one day spot a rather attractive woman sunbathing while the troops, including her husband, are off at war. David’s abuse of power that leads to a relationship with Bathsheba is a fascinating twin to this story – urinals and urriah. Here David shows mercy to Saul, one day he’ll send Urriah to the front to die in order to cover his sin. But the Bible teaches us that human beings look on the outside and judge but God searches the heart.
In all of our churches and in all of our lives there are broken relationships– family, friends, co-workers, neighbour or even God. That’s okay. It just means we’re human somewhere between the mercy of a urnial and the malevolence shown to Uriah. Pilgrimage is good for the soul (despite Papa Calvin’s reservations!) and on our pilgrimage through this life I pray that we might be ready to witness through words and actions to the healing and reconciling love of God.
Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall at The University of British Columbia.