Defined by the Fall or the Recovery?
Acts 13:22 I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.
Growing up in my church, it was not uncommon to hear the story of one who had lived a wild, destructive life only to find faith and then be radically transformed. I do not think that any of those telling such stories would have claimed to be perfect, but the message I heard was, I was once a sinner, but now I am a Christian. I no longer struggle. Perhaps I had an overactive conscience, but I knew I was not there yet. I still had struggles.
Fast forward a few years and those struggles became much more obvious. What happened? Why was I not perfect? I knew God and still pursued self to significant destruction. Christians are not supposed to fail like this. Christians are to be defined by perfection, right?
I found great comfort then, in the story of King David, a man, whom Paul says, was after God’s own heart. David was a man of faith, obeying and keeping God’s commandments, yet failing miserably at times. In faith, he fought and killed Goliath, yet later, he committed horrible crimes. As king, he abused his power by sleeping with Bathsheba, another man’s wife. He impregnated her and tried to cover it up. When he could not, he had the man killed and took Bathsheba as his wife.
When confronted, David repented but still suffered consequences. His house was afflicted with a violent legacy and God took his son. David knew God, yet followed his own flesh nature to significant destruction. Despite his epic failures though, God still favored David, calling him a man after God’s own heart. It was not that David’s good deeds outweighed his bad deeds. It was that the orientation of his life and the focus of his heart was on God. Yes, he failed miserably, but he loved, followed and obeyed God. He lived in faith.
Compare this to King Saul, whom God seemed to despise. David’s predecessor did not, in my mind, do anything as horrific as killing a man to sleep with his wife, yet God rejected Saul as king, replacing him with David. What was Saul’s crime? When he conquered the Amalekites, he spared their livestock. Though he had been commanded to kill them, he kept them for himself.
Saul’s crime seems trivial but it revealed the pattern of his life. Though he claimed to follow God, he followed himself. Later, when in distress, he did not turn to God. He went to a witch for guidance. Though Saul’s sins may not have been as bad as David’s (in my eyes), the orientation of his life was not on God. It was on self. For this, God rejected him as king. Thus, David became known for his faith and Saul for his failures.
Though I am comforted by David’s legacy despite his failures, there is a lesson in both David and Saul. I am not made perfect when I come to faith. The question is not in whether or not I fall, it is in how I recover. Do I turn to God or do I continue on my path of following self? David turned to God in repentance while Saul continued to follow self. David was thus, defined by his faith while Saul was defined by his failures.