Throughout the countryside, trees have put on their best dresses, fields sport spring-green crops, the garden spreads its tendrils in all directions, birds are nesting in branches, the house is ringed with a skirt of fresh rock, the cute chicks grew into ungainly chickens and are currently fulfilling their destiny as healthy, homegrown dinner options. Our shy husky pup has joined the ranks of big dogs who laze during the day and patrol at night. Deer, raccoons, possums, and assorted vegetable-loving critters, beware—the garden is not for you! In the small and quiet details of life, goodness manifests itself in glorious ways.
But all is not well.
A few days ago, there was a double murder-suicide just outside our small town, sky-rocketing gas prices leave the average driver apprehensive, death’s claw reached out and took another family member, and mass shootings are reported nearly every day. It’s hard to keep fear and frustration from smothering every ounce of hope for humanity’s future.
In order to better comprehend the human race’s struggle for identity and purpose, I have read the Bible many times over the years. Despite the glories of archetype images, the unfolding of our search for God, and the purpose of our creation, the Old Testament stories tend to fall from giddy heights into such depravity and horror that I am left stunned and more than a little disgusted.
In Kings 2 chapter 21 lines 8-9 King David took the two sons of Respha and the five sons of Michol and gave them to the Gabonites, who duly crucified them on a hill “before the Lord” in recompense for an alleged sin and in the hope of stopping famine in the land. “And God showed mercy again to the land after these things…” Crucifying five boys was the required price to appease God? Read on and things don’t get better. Once that horror is accomplished, they march on to more war and more murder. I wonder if the Old Testament folks thought that violence was God’s barter system, and that mass murder was simply the price of success.
It’s easy to blame God for human transgressions, insisting that the actors on yesterday’s stage were directed to act that way, rather than that’s what they thought they heard. Only God knows what He actually said. It’s hard to believe that humans could rise higher than beasts—even when they knew better. After all, the Ten Commandments had been around for a while.
Has the human race really changed? Despite the fantastic optimism of persons like Teilhard, Keller, and Whitman, who believed that humanity was rising to a peak of universal greatness, we discover, yet again, with current wars and murder in all forms, that we stand on the same old fulcrum, choosing between good and evil in ever more fantastic ways.
The astonishing thing is not that Old Testament David was a killer, the truly miraculous aspect was that he ever tried to do God’s will at all. He wrote psalms of love, praise, and reparation to his Creator even while he had buckets of blood on his hands. As horrifying as it is to read his words against the backdrop of his actions, I am forced to compare him with any other mass murderer. What if Hitler praised God during the holocaust? Would his deeds have been any less horrific?
And there is the inherent problem with a beautiful day, a perfect picture, a story’s happy ending—while human hearts beat, it’s never the end, and evil will have its say. All will not stay well. If not here and now…then at our neighbor’s house next week…or in the next town the following year.
For a long time, I pondered how Christ could identify with his Davidic lineage, knowing what David did and what atrocities he committed. Sure David “tried” to do the right thing “as he understood it,” but the fact that Hitler built good roads while trying to build a perfect nation-race hardly makes amends for his evil. So why did God Become Man stem from the line of murderer-David?
It was the Gabonite horror that brought our human story into focus for me. David crucified innocent sons. Jesus, God-man and an innocent son, offered Himself freely and was crucified by men. God does not make us suffer. We make Him—and all that is good, beautiful, and noble—suffer. Through our free will.
Our Creator knows what beasts we humans can be. The Old Testament clearly shows a base and confused race of beings. But yet, from that same stalk, there rises miracles of goodness. Generous, kind, sensitive, intelligent, and noble beings who can, on a good day, cultivate a garden—not destroy it.
Reconciliation between God and humanity was, is, and always will be an act of mercy. When we crucify our sons and daughters, we crucify God. When we terrorize and destroy our world…we terrorize and destroy His world.
The miracle is not that David murdered people. The miracle is that David ever loved God. The miracle isn’t that human beings sin but that humans can ask for and receive forgiveness, and we can stop sinning.
We are born to die. Suffering and evil are part of life, but the story does not end there. The Old Testament wasn’t the last word. Christ lived, died, and rose—our old humanity gives way to new possibilities.
God did not give us Heaven on Earth. He gives us a choice. Every day. In unlimited ways.
Today, I’ll go visit the garden…