As a kid, I remember when I first ‘got’ David.
I was in middle school and I was struggling with the Psalms, which is exactly what made me keep coming back to them. It started with the famous twenty-third Psalm, which we had to memorize for something in church, and then I just kept reading. There was some confusion, however, when I came across these unsettling Psalms that didn’t seem to be very uplifting, didn’t seem to resolve. It’s like a lot of them start off very depressing and either end on a vaguely positive note, or just end. I didn’t understand poetry or literary critique at that age, all I saw was a guy who seemed very upset about half the time. I wondered, Why didn’t God just make him happy? He sounds pretty sincere, and that’s sort of what I’d learned in Sunday school was God’s goal, to bless those who bless and seek him. And yeah, I knew David had fouled up here and there, but I also knew he was trying to be better.
But then I got it. David was a real guy. As in, a real person with real ups and downs, real honest to goodness issues, and he was pretty open about them. He was constantly crying out to God for help or comfort, and he recorded a lot of that desperation in many of the Psalms. Then he would take heart in the old scriptures, often remembering back to how God came through for his forefathers and in those thoughts he found satisfaction.
I could relate to David an awful lot. I remember hearing my mom pray, and I don’t mean mealtime grace. I mean, when dad was on the rampage, mom was doing her spiritual warfare thing, and oftentimes it was hard to tell who God more likely to hear. As much trouble as I had with the inconsistencies I saw in my dad’s behavior and the anger and resentment it created in me, I saw the similarities between my mom’s desperation and what I saw portrayed in the Psalms. That was what I began to hold on to; desperation for God.
One thing that never really clicked with me, however, is that David was a classic manic depressive, and that is not healthy. I had become completely okay with my emotional ups and downs because I saw them reflected in the character of David. I never once thought I needed to make adjustments to myself in those areas.
And another thing that never clicked was, many other people I was around seemed to justify their behavior with biblical examples as well. Both my parents relied on the bible as a basis for their behavior; my mom in her praying for the family and my dad in his righteous anger at the family. I’m still not sure if my mom’s behavior was healthy or not, but I can be sure my dad’s wasn’t. He was a cranky, unhappy, grudge holding, bitter old man.
I’ve grown a lot since then, and so has my relationship with my parents, especially my dad. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how his character has pulled a total one-eighty. I’d hate to leave anyone reading this with the wrong impression. He’s a lot easier to get along with these days, and it’s taken a lot of effort to get to where he is, but for five or six years now at least, things have been pretty decent.
So where am I going with this, anyway?
Well, another thing that never really clicked with me was, God never actually responded to David or answered any of his pleas. David sort of cried out, then thought back to the good old days and tried to find solace in that. I was in the same boat, in some ways. I had rough times, but I had good times, too. So for years, I just tried to focus on the good times and ignore the crap that still went on. It was okay God never showed up in obvious ways, I sort of gave him credit post hoc for anything that went well and, though I don’t know why, I’d just learned to accept the things that went poorly as my own fault.
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Recently I had a revelation; I can really only think of one person in the bible that God did respond to when questioned, which was Job, and boy did he have to earn that conversation. Even more surprising to me was how God really didn’t answer any of Job’s questions, either. He basically says, “Well, I’m God. Look at all the amazing things I’ve created. Do you dare question me in my awesomeness?” This scene is oddly reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy and her band address the Great and Powerful Oz and get put immediately in their place. Only Job never sees a man behind any curtain, never actually gets to have a real, civilized, sit down chat. I know, this is quite a stretch for some of you, comparing the Wizard of Oz with God, but it’s the best comparison I have at the moment. Any metaphor would probably be lacking.
But then it really hit me. With Job, God was actually just showing off to Satan, anyway. He allowed all manner of evil and pain, except death, to befall Job in order to satisfy a wager. And when Job calls him out in this injustice, God just pulls the same sort of I’m-awesome rhetoric, then gives Job his stuff back, in what I consider a tacit admission of guilt. (Argue all you want, the book of Job is just ridiculous if we insist it represents a loving and just God.)
Luckily, I’m not Job. I’m certainly happy for that fact, if not for my own sake then for the sake of my wife and daughter. I’d hate to get stuck in the middle of some cosmic wager and lose my family as a teaching lesson for Christians thousands of years from now.
So I’m not Job and that’s good, but I have been an awful lot like David, and it’s been this way for far too long.
The trouble is, David was not a healthy person emotionally, as the rest of his personal life and all its issues will easily attest. And neither was I for many years. The effects of that fact still occasionally spill over into my life and my relationship with my own family as I try to distance myself from the person I used to be.
Today, I’m no longer okay being David, riding out the ups and downs and waiting for God to show up. I simply don’t get comfort from old bible stories about all the great stuff God did, because that God seems to be away on business these days. And I certainly don’t want to earn that sort of conversation through Job-like trials only to be even more disappointed when God pops in for a quick muscle-flex, now-look-over-here move. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there is no God. I’m just letting go of the expectation that he might someday show interest in my life or well being. In my opinion, if he is God the way most Christians understand him, he’ll know where to find me when he decides it’s time.
And you also must realize, this only one facet in a very long and complicated process of researching biblical history, church history, scriptural tradition, theology, and many, many other factors. This has taken years of pushing God into a smaller and smaller corner as I learned more and more about the real world. In the real world, there are no miracles, and acts of God are, in fact, due to observable, natural phenomenon. I don’t need complicated, highly nuanced answers when science or nature provide me with more than satisfactory explanations that don’t ask me to suspend reason and don a helmet of credulity. God can still be God without old, facile definitions and worn out rhetoric.
I know this post may disappoint many of you, but you have to realize I’m at least equally disappointed, if not more so. Maybe my expectations were built up incorrectly and this is just one more step in disassembling those faulty presumptions before I am able to rebuild on a firm foundation. I don’t know. All I know is, for now at least, I’m done waiting around for something to happen.
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(P.S. I know this stance may preclude my involvement as a contributor to this blog, but I’ll leave that decision up to the rest of you guys. I still plan to stay involved in discussions, but I don’t want to be… oh what’s the term… unequally yoked?)
(P.P.S. Reading this again, I now realize I haven’t exactly stated where I do stand. I’ll let this be for now. The post is long enough already.)