I have always appreciated perspective and its remarkable value. Perspective provides clarity. A lack of ambiguity removes confusion. I recall taking algebra in high school. I have never been one to fully understand the value of algebra and my mind is skeptical about what it provides, so I start with a certain skepticism about anything that I struggle to make sense of. That was especially true of me as a high school student in an algebra class. But Mrs. Kirby was a masterful and convincing teacher.
You could tell that she loved two things. First of all, she had a genuine love for the practicality of mathematics. She spoke with conviction and passion for math and she seemed to want to pass this love on to her students. The other thing she loved was teaching. She had such a joyful, friendly way about her and she had the teaching thing down to an art. Her classes loved her. I loved her as a teacher because she would stop midstream to provide perspective if she saw a single confused face (a regular occurrence among us football players). Mrs. Kirby knew the importance of perspective and it’s value in creating clarity. A simple, “This is why we do this” was always helpful for me. Then, and only then, it made sense to me. Once I had perspective I was able to move on and grow in my understanding.
That’s what God has provided for us, too.
In II Samuel we see some pretty disturbing things. It’s easy to get lost in all of the violence and the insane choices that people make. Some of the craziness bothers our Western sensibilities and unless you look under the surface you might be in danger of losing perspective. It’s important to have a sense of your surroundings and hang on to all the facts. Context is vital. Some things will not make sense because we’re not used to that culture or the issues that were and are true of that particular time. Learning those particulars is helpful to gain perspective.
It has been said by some critics of the Scriptures that the Old Testament is all about judgement and has a harsh and unrealistically deafening message about a despotic God. I humbly beg to differ. I think the New Testament is more about judgement (that is why Jesus had to die). The Old Testament is actually a display of amazing grace and mercy. How many crazy people does it take to test God’s patience with their covenant breaking ways over and over and over? It would seem that everyone in the Old Testament was a bit on the disobedient side (and those were some crazy people). But, mercy is extended time and time again. God shows remarkable patience in the life of Israel. So, one would be inaccurate to accuse God of being cruel, ambiguous or cryptic. He is crystal clear and, at first pass, it may seem difficult to understand that kind of wisdom. But it is really quite loving.
You see, in paganism one must appeal to whatever god he can because he has no sure way of knowing which god he has offended. Dale Ralph Davis writes in his commentary on 2 Samuel 21, “This miserable agnosticism plagues mankind as a whole – no one knows if he is committing sin or doing good as he lives out his life. That is paganism – nebulous, hopeless, cruel. But Yahweh is kind: he declares our guilt to us. That is the mercy of clarity.” He never beats around the bush. We are guilty of rebellion and self-centered thinking. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that our hearts are desperately evil. But God continues his clarity by providing a way toward him.
Indeed, God says to us that we must be perfect as he is. Then he covers us with this holiness through Jesus. He doesn’t stop with clarity on our rebellion. He then provides mercy. Clearly, that is perspective giving mercy. That is amazing grace. He is remarkable.
FN: Dale Ralph Davis. “2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity.” p. 26.