Ok, so I haven’t watched a minute of ‘game of thrones’ but I’m going to steal the title. (You can’t copyright the english language can you?) Anyway, there I was on Thursday doing a regular bible reading catch-up with some kids and we found ourselves reading this:
1 Samuel 8:1-9 1 Samuel 8:1 As Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons to be judges over Israel. 2 Joel and Abijah, his oldest sons, held court in Beersheba. 3 But they were not like their father, for they were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and perverted justice. 4 Finally, all the elders of Israel met at Ramah to discuss the matter with Samuel. 5 “Look,” they told him, “you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” 6 Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the LORD for guidance. 7 “Do everything they say to you,” the LORD replied, “for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. 8 Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. 9 Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.”
So, let’s summarize the request: “Hey Sam your sons are corrupt.” “It’s cool, we have a solution; appoint a king, you know, just like all the other nations around us, cos y’know, it’s not like they are corrupt or anything.” “Yeah that’ll work.”
One corrupt system with another. That reminds me, I must remember to vote in a few weeks.
For some reason, this particular week this passage stuck in my head. Perhaps it was because that Thursday morning I’d been reflecting on what it means to really repent. in that reflection, I started to see more clearly than I ever had before that all the choices in life are really down to two options: repentance or self-deception. No wonder Luther once said “all of life is repentance.” It is, or it’s “all of life is self-deception.”
What is really described here in 1 Samuel is how God’s people deceive themselves.
Ultimately we deceive ourselves through playing a sort of ‘game of thrones’.
We imagine that there’s more than one.
We imagine that both we and God can reign side by side on the throne(s) of our heart. Here’s a few ways in which it tends to play out:
1. The idea of remaining in a relationship with God whilst still being able to be ‘like everyone else’.
Jesus is pretty straight up when he says: no one can serve two masters. But what makes it really scary is that he goes on to say that you’ll end up serving one….and hating the other. This is exactly, exactly what happened to Israel. Israel began to serve its own identity so much that when God literally showed up, (hint: Jesus) …its religious leaders identified him as being on Satan’s team.
Can you imagine if Jesus walked into a church, did a miraculous miracle only to be surrounded by straight-laced Christians shouting out (insert accent of choice here) “in the name of Jesus, I rebuke you devil!”
How does this start in a Christian context? What are the first signs of danger? I believe it is essentially this:
When we begin to view the Cross (and all it entails) as something that enables us to live our lives rather than something than enables us to live God’s life for us. Especially when we think God’s wrong.
There’s a lot of teaching about ‘the life God’s called you to.’ Well, life God called Paul to was full of beatings, shipwrecks, false accusations, prison etc. How did he handle it? Simple; the cross and the empty tomb filled his thoughts and framed his entire worldview.
But it’s possible to frame your entire worldview on….the world, baptize it in spiritual language then ask a ‘Samuel’ somewhere to affirm it to you on God’s behalf. But if that ‘Samuel’ is doing their job, they’ll say something like this: “If we want to be like everyone else it means we don’t want to be God’s.”
That = trouble. Free will ultimately means that we don’t have to be anything or anyone’s. But who, or whose do we want to be? The next one follows on from this:
2. Why we avoid sin.
We live in the age of awareness. What ever happened to just….courtesy? Regarding others about self?
Nope, we love the word awareness because it makes us feel smart. We love to think that we’re aware. The ironic thing is, the more aware you think you are, the less you usually are. Seriously, have you ever had that conversation with the person who talks about awareness in one breath and then in the next says the most naive, arrogant thing the next?
The truth is, that without God’s help we are about as aware as lump of granite. Heck, I am. I cringe when I think about some things that I have said to people in the past.
So here we are so ‘aware of ourselves’ that we’ve begun to realize that sin is spiritually, emotionally, mentally and even physically detrimental. Duh! Naturally then, we talk about sin, (when we eventually even do get round to talking about it) we talk about it in our terms of reference.
It’s possible to be so preoccupied with the effects of sin that its effects on us becomes the chief reason why we should avoid it. But as much as it’s effects are true, whatever happened to avoiding it because God is God?
The path to truth joy is, ironically, to realize that sin is bad not principally because it robs us of our joy (as if we had a right to it) but because the choices of you and I have scarred the Lord of Glory for all eternity in ways we cannot imagine. The truly beautiful part is he proudly wears an those scars with love.
If our joy becomes more important to us than God’s, life becomes a string of pain avoidance rather than bold worship. -Do everything they say to you,” the LORD replied, “for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer.
3. Whatever you set up as king, will be king. It will reign over you.
Whatever you worship will control you. The most unsurprising thing in all of the Old Testament is that Israel were always under the oppression of the nations around them. but of course these weren’t simply other nations were they? No, they were other faith communities, with their trust in gods of fertility, wealth, power and so on.
So, it was these things which ended up reigning over them.
The best way to ensure you never feel like you have enough money is do set wealth up on the throne of your heart. Because you are serving it. It is king, not you, and so it will demand more and more and more from you.
The best way to cut yourself off from any fulfilling relationship is to set up relationships as king. Sure enough you’ll spend your life ‘bowing down to relationships’ and sooner or later you’ll get sick of it.
The best way to inoculate yourself from sexual intimacy is to enthrone sex as king. You’ll be forced to bow down to it as is drains your self-control a little more each time until you wake up one day wondering why you can’t feel anything except frustration and rage. If we were really serious about violence against women we’d do something about pornography.
Actually, while we’re on this pattern; the best way to feel spiritually insecure is to set up religion on the throne.
There’s a precious picture elsewhere in the book of Samuel:
1 Samuel 5:1-4 When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod; 2 then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and placed it beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But when they rose early on the next morning, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off upon the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him.
There’s a bit of legend ministering up in Geraldton at the moment by the name of Gavin Douglas. I got to study at Vose with him and one day in a chapel service time of open prayer, he prayed a prayer that nearly knocked me off my seat. Short and to the point.
“Lord Jesus, You. Are. KING.”
In the Old Testament the Ark of the Covenant represented the very presence of God and points forward to the person of Jesus in the N.T. (Just ask your friendly local evangelical Old Testament scholar.)
What the ark does to Dagon’s temple, Jesus will do to the temple of our heart if we let him in via deliberate, consistent and thought-through repentance.
He and only he can and (praise God) will rip down every idol, and every throne in our heart that we muck around with. It may not be comfortable, but he will finish the remodeling job.
You see, when God’s presence get’s in to the temple of any foreign god, power or throne, you wake up one day to find that he’s made it his.
He’s made it his.
Because unlike all the other nations; he’s King.
It’s what he does and that is our greatest hope of all.