A Kingdom of Gentleness and Respect


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,[1] 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.[2]

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


This post is part of a lead-in to the next “History Bits” post planned for April 9th, and hopefully I can get one more in tomorrow out of the four I had planned…


[1] Psalm 3:8
[2] There’s also a third common story: “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” (1 Corinthians 15:32) Today, we focus on the other two.

King David Didn’t Let Politics Keep Him Up at Night


The U.S. midterm elections are later this year, and some are already considering turning off their social media feeds until its over.  Jesus is not on any ballot for the elections, but this does not mean His people are without hope and comfort.  It also doesn’t mean Christians should ignore it all.  Last fall, I wrote a twopart series partly about not over-reacting to the threats of worldly kingdoms because “He who sits in the heavens laughs.” (Psalm 2:4) When recently reading Psalm 3, which is “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son,” I saw that this Psalm may not have come after Psalm 2 by accident and may also comfort us in the face of political bad news.

Absalom’s Rebellion
The story of King David in the Bible is a very condensed version of his life but does not shy away from David’s serious failures and flaws.  The story of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba is not swept under the rug, and eventually, Absalom’s rebellion against his father David was justified in his mind by those flaws.  Absalom harbored resentment for years after David’s lack of punishment for Absalom’s brother Amnon, who raped his sister Tamar.  One can imagine Absalom thinking about his father: “You’re the king of Israel, so why didn’t you protect Tamar, or at least punish Amnon?  If my sister and I don’t get justice, you don’t deserve to be king!”

David, on the other hand, was quite aware of the limits of being king.  In Psalm 131:1, David wrote:

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
            my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
            too great and too marvelous for me.

Even while writing as divinely selected king of Israel, David knew many things were “too great and too marvelous” even for him.  Instead, David focused his heart on the God-given task before him, which did not include achieving perfection in this world.  That task belonged elsewhere.  Later, Psalm 131 was included in the Psalms of Ascent[1], which served as a liturgy for pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for three annual festivals.  In those Psalms are reminders of God’s provision for things the world can’t provide, including salvation for our souls and a way to perfect righteousness.  The pilgrims did not go to Jerusalem to worship the earthly king, but to encounter God, and including Psalm 131 in that liturgy would always be a reminder that our worldly aims should always be rooted in humility.

When Absalom raised several hundred supporters and entered Jerusalem to violently overthrow his father David, “a messenger came to David, saying, ‘The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.’ Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, ‘Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.’”  (2 Samuel 15:13-14)

David’s Response
After surrendering the throne and fleeing, David wrote Psalm 3, “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son,” which says in full:

“O LORD, how many are my foes!
            Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
            “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
            my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
            and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept;
            I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
            who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O LORD!
            Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
            you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the LORD;
            your blessing be on your people! Selah”

Knowing the background of this Psalm and its placement after Psalm 2 make it far more interesting.  David had suffered a massive political defeat, being humiliated and tossed out of Jerusalem by his own son.  Instead of despairing, he turned to God for his salvation because he knew even the king of Israel could not save the people.  He was only a temporary and provincial authority.  Even though God had promised David the throne, God was able to save David, and Israel, without David on the throne.  With the murderous and vengeful Absalom on the throne, was God defeated?  No, instead we have this Psalm as a reminder of God’s presence and provision of salvation in spite of whatever situation we find ourselves in.

David, having cultivated over years an awareness of his own limitations as king of Israel, and the limitless power of God, “lay down and slept,” then “woke again, for the LORD sustained me.”  Surrounded by foes and removed from his throne, David slept soundly!  In contrast, Absalom is shown as one who broods upon every imperfection, plotting ways to force justice as he sees it on others, even if he must dishonor God.  You could say he is driven by the “utopian impulse,” belief in a government that can solve all of our problems and shouldn’t rest until it does.

Democracy and Tyranny
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.  A lesson from Psalm 3 is that we should be able to sleep at night in good conscience because no matter the world looks like, God says “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:6) even when king David was on the run for his life.  The success of God’s plan does not rely on our political success. But a second lesson from the story of Absalom is that a ruler driven by achieving worldly perfection can be the worst kind, even if they seem to have good intentions.

Absalom’s story reminds me of this quote from C.S. Lewis:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under of robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber barons cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some points be satiated; but those who torment us for their own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to heaven yet at the same time likely to make a Hell of earth.”[2]

How do we reconcile the two lessons?

Coming This Week
This week, I’m hoping to squeeze in a short series of posts on narratives, history, and (gasp!) politics.  I’m very much figuring this out myself every day and learning how to engage without following my own utopian impulse to cut off Malchus’ ear[3] but I also know that waiting for a perfect answer guarantees failure.  This blog is part of that process for me.  This week’s posts will lead up to the next “History Bits” post I have planned for April 9th and give some background on that series.

Hope you’ll join me and let me know what you think.


[1] I’m currently writing about those Psalms in a series, which began here.
[2] From “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.” C.S. Lewis. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics.  (1970).  P. 292.
[3] See John 18:10

All You Need is Love, But What is Love?


A recent survey said that only 9% of American adults have a “biblical worldview.”  I’m generally skeptical of polls unless I know how they were done.  After looking into this one, I wonder if I fall in to the 91% of American adults who don’t have a “biblical worldview.”  Why?  In their definition of “biblical worldview” the word “love” was nowhere to be found.  Maybe they thought “love” was too hard to define to base a survey on.  If so, I can understand because love is a complicated thing.

In this survey, “love” was not in the definition, but “absolute moral truth” is, which bothered me not because truth is a bad thing, but because moral law is what condemns us.  Moral law would still exist if Christ had not died for us.  The Gospel, or Good News, of Christianity is that we can be saved despite failing to follow the law. Truth without love is like describing Easter and leaving out the Resurrection.  If we have not love, we have nothing but condemnation.  Love is essential.

But what is love?  Love means many things to different people and is a word people like to leave undefined or use to mean whatever sounds good.  Often people agree that “we should all love each other” without knowing what exactly they’re agreeing on.

Confusion about what love is has been around for a long, long time.  The Bible itself talks about several different kinds of love, making a “biblical worldview” definition harder.  In English translations of the New Testament, the word “love” shows up over and over again, but the Bible wasn’t written in English.  I’m no Greek scholar, but what follows is how I personally understand “love,” and I hope it clarifies rather than confuses.

In Greek, there are at least 4 words for love, including these three:

  • Eros – sexual or passionate love
  • Phileo – this is a root of “Philadelphia”, literally the city of brotherly love.  Loosely, phileo means an affection for people who are “brothers,” who we like because we admire something about them, or because they are like us.
  • Stergo – This is a love toward kindred or family, typically between parents and children.  This love is like a loyalty to those we are related to by blood.

These words and ideas were part of the culture in which Jesus lived, died and rose again over 2,000 years ago.  However, the writers of the New Testament Bible couldn’t line the meaning of these words up with what they wanted to say about Jesus.  Therefore, they took a little-used word – agape – and poured new meaning into it.

A Better Love
Agape is epitomized by the act of Jesus dying on the cross, but also by His selfless love for others repeatedly demonstrated in the gospel records of His life.  Agape is putting the interests of others above the interests of yourself, even if there is no benefit to yourself, or even if there is a significant cost to yourself.  Even if those others don’t love you.  Agape motivates acts of benevolence or charity.

Why is love so important to a Christian worldview?  Not only because if God didn’t love the world, He wouldn’t have sent His only son, but also because if individual Christians leave love out of their worldview, they use “absolute truth” as a reason to judge.  Love that requires sacrifice may be less popular than love that doesn’t, but without it there is no cross.

As I see a Christian worldview, this kind of love is absolutely essential.  From it comes a framework of the entire history of God’s relations with man in three phases: love rejected, love redeemed, and love restored.

Love Rejected
While vague “love” is popular, true agape love is not.  When I took a college class on Interpersonal Psychology, one of the topics was the multiple meanings of love. The professor explained the multiple Greek words used for “love”, but when he got to “agape” he asked if anyone in the class could explain because he didn’t “understand” it (or so he said).  I raised my hand, answered by describing the self-sacrificial love of Jesus, and was snickered at by much of the class.  The professor smiled at me and moved on to the next topic.  He probably set up the same situation every semester.  So, yes, not only does the world often not know what “love” means in a Christian sense, but they actively ridicule it when it’s explained to them.

From Adam and Eve right to the modern day, agape love is the bonds that mankind seeks to break and find their own way.  In an earlier post, I wrote that the “bonds” and “cords” that the world tries to break free from in Psalm 2 are the laws of love for God and for our fellow man.  Jesus summarized all the commandments of the Bible as: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”, and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[1]

I recently wrote that “the problem with every person individually is that they are unable, no matter how much external pressure is put on them, to treat other individuals the way they should be treated.”  People like to ask or demand that others practice agape love, but usually for the benefit of themselves.  It is not in our nature to demand it of ourselves first whether or not anyone else reciprocates.

Love Redeemed
People also usually like the idea that every person gets what they deserve – but we are less likely to talk about that for ourselves than for others.  The justice of God demands that anyone who refuses – at any time – to love Him and to love their neighbor should get what they deserve.  He does not miss anything but is perfect in His justice.  Jesus had to live the perfect life of agape love, under the loving guidance of Our Father, not so we won’t have to, but because we can’t.  Without Christianity and without love, the world would never be able to overcome the “Love Rejected” stage.

Christianity is not judgement, but the only way of escape from it: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). If man had not rejected love, Christianity wouldn’t be necessary; but also, if Christianity does not restore mankind to agape love, it’s pointless.  Jesus, by willingly giving the ultimate sacrifice of Himself, satisfied God’s perfect justice and perfect love simultaneously.

By rising from the grave, He is able to share with us the power of agape love, which governs and redeems the other loves:

  • Eros – So many of the personal and societal problems in the world are driven by unconstrained eros.  In agape, God provides boundaries within which eros benefits, rather than harms, humanity.  See an earlier post on Godly Offspring for how God prevails over unconstrained eros even when we fail.
  • Phileo – Unconstrained phileo, which can become what we call tribalism, is behind a lot of the racism, sexism, xenophobia, and other group conflicts in the world.  This also is nothing new – God through His Son will redeem us.  I wrote about agape overcoming tribalism in an old post about Jesus reaching out to Zacchaeus the tax collector.
  • Stergo – Families might be expected to be the easiest places to love each other, but they are often where passions run hottest.  James 4:1 says “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”  Only agape provides what is needed to bridge the divide, a love to govern stergo.

A Christian in our world has a restored relationship with God but is only able to practice agape love imperfectly while awaiting a new body in a new heaven and a new earth.

Love Restored
The Bible does not contain a lot of specifics about the eternal life that Christians inherit and it is often misunderstood.  For example, those who think of Christianity as a set of rules that make us “perfect” think they are right to ignore the hope of heaven.  C.S. Lewis says sometimes “our notion of Heaven involves perpetual negations: no food, no drink, no sex, no movement, no mirth, no events, no time, no art.”[2]

But thinking of heaven as love restored helps understand it better.  Elsewhere Lewis reframes heaven as: “When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.”[3]  By obedience he means obedience to loving God and man, and in heaven every person’s ability to love will be as the laws of nature, as reliable and predictable as the rising of the sun every morning or the return of leaves to the trees in the spring.

Also, we will not become something entirely other than what we are now, like an angel, but will be transformed and perfected, while retaining our individuality.  Pastor Tim Keller explains that “Our future, glorified selves will be continuous with who we are now, but the growth into wisdom, goodness, and power will be infinitely greater.”[4]

This is a future worth having.

How to Have This Love
For those who agree that the agape love we lost is the love we need back, Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  He offers a world where every individual person uses their individual talents, gifts and creativity in the best interests of others.  All you have to do is agree to do the same, redeemed by His sacrifice and empowered by His Spirit to do the will of the Father.

How do we accept this offer?
“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” – Romans 10:9-10

If you haven’t already, ask Him to be your Lord and Savior.

Nobody is more or less Christian than Jesus makes them.  No doctrine or experience can replace a loving, personal relationship with our Maker and Lord, who guides and empowers us to love as He does.  If we have not love, we have nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  Fortunately, in Christianity we have His agape love if we will accept it above all other, lesser loves.  Christianity is not Christianity, and we are not fully ourselves, without it.


[1] From Matthew 22:37 and 39
[2] Lewis, C.S.  The Weight of Glory (1941).  P. 107
[3] Ibid.  P. 43
[4] Keller, Timothy.  Making Sense of God (2016).  P. 170

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