With another history post coming up, I set out this week to write about this blog’s approach to history and politics, knowing that with these topics, the hardest part can be how to say what you want to say. Imitating David in Psalm 3, I write to testify that “salvation belongs to the LORD,” to some an inherently political statement, in a way that obeys God in approach and tone. What does that mean? 1 Peter 4:15-16 says: “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” This means it is not as simple as just yelling the right story from the rooftops, or in my case, from an unfiltered blog. “Gentleness and respect” matter.
Last time, I wrote that “Jesus isn’t on the ballot this fall, but flawed candidates of many types will be. Some more like David, and some more like Absalom.” David, even as God’s appointed king of Israel, knew that not every problem was in his power to solve. However, David was at peace with his limits in an imperfect world, knowing that his salvation came from God alone. But Absalom hated David’s inability, or unwillingness, to solve all his problems. Absalom harbored angry resentment against David for years before violently overthrowing him. During this rebellion, David was calm and able to sleep because the kingdom of God was real to him, even when it didn’t look like it. Then he wrote Psalm 3 to let us know about it.
This conflict between David and Absalom echoes in broad narratives or stories told throughout history: 1) we can and should perfect ourselves, or 2) we are dependent on God to save us.
In the 1 Peter quote above, he says that we defend our eternal hope with “gentleness and respect.,” meaning that those who trust God’s salvation should use not only their words, but also their attitudes and very lives. The story must be real to us to be convincing to others, and those who hope in God’s kingdom should show obedience to that kingdom. Easier said than done.
Fortunately, when we truly believe, experience, and stand for God’s salvation, our brokenness and failure is part of the testimony. When we know God’s salvation is the only solution, we can approach people with different worldviews with our common need for salvation, in “gentleness and respect,” instead of fighting over solutions we know are imperfect. David was able to sleep at night even when chased out of Jerusalem by his own son, because he had “a good conscience,” showing gentleness and respect toward Absalom. The kingdom of God was real in his heart, and he believed God would prevail no matter what. Circumstances could not shake his faith, and God ultimately delivered and restored him.
If, on the other hand, our brokenness and God’s solution for it is not part of our story, we may be left defending an imperfect political solution to those who demand perfection. In David’s case, he may have insisted that God was unjust in allowing Absalom to succeed. After all, he could argue, he was a humble king after God’s own heart, while Absalom was bitter and unreasonable. If David had done this, it may have ironically helped Absalom’s case for tyranny. In addition, David would not have been able to find peace and sleep at night until Absalom was overthrown. However, if the starting point is that weakness is common to all of mankind, then the imperfection of the system is both part of the “reason for the hope” and a reason for even the unbeliever to resist tyranny. In this case, imperfection is not hypocrisy, but a condition common to mankind.
Declaring “salvation belongs to the LORD” with actions, along with words, gives evidence that worldly utopia is not the answer. But when words or actions fall short, we can still point to the One who is perfect since we aren’t trying to prove worldly utopia is possible. The two lessons from Absalom’s rebellion are reconciled in a life lived with “gentleness and respect.” Because God does not rely on political systems to work His salvation, tyranny is just another “temporary and provincial authority” subject to the greater authority of God. We can have a clear conscience based on the sacrifice of Christ and not on worldly success.
A life lived in hope for the eternal kingdom of God is one lived in love for those left behind by every imperfect system of this world, but also one that testifies that all systems, including our own individual wills, are not perfectible by human effort. Peter wrote that those who hope in God will be slandered, but also that those who live humble lives based on hope in God and not themselves will ultimately be proved right. Until then, by their example as they follow Christ, they can show the futility of tyranny. By God’s grace, His people will inherit a real utopia by learning to love those who hope in a false one with gentleness and respect.
Our failure is part of our testimony as we drive toward morning, but “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matthew 6:33