Playing Theological Scrabble
Dr. Jim Denison
I have an article written by someone with too much spare time. This person has played Scrabble in an unusual way: by rearranging the letters, “George Bush” becomes “He bugs Gore,” “dormitory” becomes “dirty room,” “the Morse code” spells “here come dots,” “slot machines” is “cash lost in me,” “eleven plus two” is “twelve plus one,” and closing with the worst on the list, “mother-in-law” becomes “woman Hitler.”
Today we’ll close our series with King David by playing theological Scrabble. There is only one way to arrange the letters of our days to make genuine meaning of them. Most of us want to write volumes with our lives and work. But there is only one sentence which will give us the harmony, peace, and joy God intends our lives and relationships to possess.
Refuse a divided heart
Today we’ll choose between David and Saul. Between two kings, two ways of life, two approaches to faith, two worldviews. Meet your first option.
Saul was the largest and mightiest man in his entire nation, a head taller than his contemporaries. When the Israelites wanted a king to protect them from their enemies, it only made sense that they would choose him. If the Mavericks could sign Shaquille O’Neal or me to play center, Mark Cuban wouldn’t have a hard decision to make.
And Saul’s early years were successful in the extreme. He led Israel to defeat the hated Philistines, to liberate the people from enslaved bondage, to procure a measure of freedom and security they had not known in generations.
But then came the test of Saul’s heart, the moment which revealed a destiny.
The Lord commanded the king to attack a people known as the Amalekites for their sins against Israel during the Exodus. Here was his clear word: “…destroy everything that belongs to them” (1 Samuel 15:3). But Saul kept “the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good” (v. 9).
The Lord responded thus: “Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: ‘I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions'” (v. 10-11a).
God gave Samuel this further word: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (v. 22).
With this conclusion: “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you” (v. 28). The point was not the lambs and calves, for the God of the universe has plenty. The point was partial or complete obedience.
Saul typifies the spirit of our day: serve God, but serve yourself as well. Give him what he asks, so long as you get what you want also. If we give him Sunday, we can have the rest of the week. If we give him some of our money, we can spend the rest as we wish. If we give him some of our time and abilities, we can use the rest as we please. Live in two worlds, serving two masters. This is the divided heart.
It is not a new worldview. Six centuries before Christ, a Greek singer and philosopher named Orpheus taught his followers that our souls are separate from our bodies, that in fact our bodies were created to punish and purify our souls. So the “spiritual” is good, while the “secular” is bad.
This single idea influenced Pythagoras, who influenced Plato, who influenced Augustine, who influenced Luther. It has come to permeate all of Western civilization, so that it is in the very air we breathe today. There is the spiritual and the secular, the church and the “real world,” Sunday and Monday. Give God what he wants, but only so long as we get what we want as well.
The divided heart affects us in every way. Here are some hard questions. They are intended kindly, but they reveal the way we are all tempted by this worldview.
This week, did you meet God every morning for an extended time of prayer, Bible study, and worship? If not, why not? Is it that you didn’t have the time? Or is it that you didn’t want to give the time? Would such a commitment require a lifestyle adjustment you don’t want to make? Would it cost you sleep, or leisure, or work you don’t want to give? Are you trying to serve God and self at the same time?
This week, did you make your faith public? Did you share the gospel with a lost friend or colleague or relative? If not, why not? Is it that you didn’t know how? Or is it that you didn’t want to take the chance? Would such a commitment require a risk you don’t want to take? Would it cost you socially? Are you trying to serve God and self?
Today, did you give the tithe, ten percent of your income, to God? If not, why not? Is it your belief that you cannot afford to do so? Is it true that you actually cannot afford to give ten percent of your income to the One who gave everything to you, or is it that such a commitment would cost you more than you want to pay? Would it require a lifestyle adjustment you don’t want to make? Are you trying to serve God and self?
A recent poll revealed that three-quarters of college students surveyed said their professors taught them there is no clear standard of right and wrong. In 2001, almost 30 million Americans said they had no religion—more than double the number from 1990. George Gallup recently reported that 20 percent of self-described born-again Christians believe in reincarnation, 26 percent in astrology, and 16 percent have visited a fortuneteller. 30 percent say that cohabitation, gay sex, and watching pornography is morally acceptable. We want to live for God, but for ourselves as well.