Sunday, March 2, 2014

I May Not Be David, But Victory is Still Mine

One of the most staggering revelations I faced while studying at seminary came when I was reading the parable of the prodigal son.

As a "church kid," the roles represented by each character in the story were always made very clear to me: I was the wayward, rebellious son and God was the loving, forgiving father who was so happy to see me when I came home with a humble, broken heart.  Super straight forward analogy.  I sin, He forgives.  End of story.

Fast forward 20 years.  I am in seminary, reading Henri Nouwen's The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, and I am shocked to realize that all this time, I have been relating to the wrong character.

I am not the prodigal.

I am the bitter, self-righteous elder brother.

I am the one whose feet have never strayed far from home but whose heart is still far from the father.  I am the one who has done all of the right things for all of the wrong reasons.  I am the one who wants justice for others as long as I remain in favorable standing based on my good behavior.  I am the one fulfilling my duties while my pride, resentment and anger run rampant under the surface.  I, too, must "return" from my internal pig sty.

And I, too, am still loved by my father.

That revelation occurred several years ago but I thought about it again today as I read this passage from The Mockingbird Devotional regarding the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:

"Goliath proposes a one-on-one, winner-take-all battle between himself and anyone of Israel's choosing.  No one steps forward initially, and when David finally accepts the challenge from Goliath, he is met with mocking from his brothers.  At David's defeat of Goliath, all of Israel - his brothers included - charge up in victory."  -Drake Richey

Again, ever since I was a child, I have always been David in this story.  (I mean, what good, 21st century American church would teach their children to relate to anyone in a story besides the hero?).  It was startling today to realize that I am not the boy of faith in this story.  I am not the one courageously facing the battle before me in the strength of the Lord.

I am not David.

I am Eliab.

I am the fearful bystander who questions whether or not my God will come through for me.  I am the one cynically questioning the hero's motives ("Eliab's anger was kindled against David and he said, 'Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness?  I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.'" - 1 Samuel 17:28).  I am the one who is comfortable as long as nobody around me is taking any action and who becomes angry when someone challenges my complacency.  I am the mocking voice who doesn't want to have to explain myself if we lose the battle, doesn't want to risk having too much faith, too much trust, too much hope.

But here's the crazy thing:

I still get to celebrate the victory.

I am not David but somehow, in this story, I still win.  I didn't earn it, but victory is still mine.  My mocking voice now shouts in celebration.  My lazy feet which clung so firmly to safe ground charge forward in triumph.

That's crazy.

It's grace.  All grace and only grace.

The faith that God bestowed upon David is truly remarkable, but I almost find it crazier that the rest of faithless Israel gets to take part in David's victory.

I am not David.  I am Eliab, Christ is David, and the fact that his actions could secure my victory is a truth that blows my mind every time I see it anew.

"In the same way, Christ's death at Calvary brings victory to all, even the mockers.  Our victory does not consist of running up the mountain after the Philistines, but rather a righteousness that has been bestowed upon us that we did not earn.  The message of the Gospel is that victory has been won.  The battle was one-on-one, winner-take-all and the outcome has been decided.  It is with this confidence that St. Paul writes, 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.  The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (I Cor 15:54, 56).'" -Drake Richey

Thanks be to God, indeed.