The Gift of Powerlessness
I love those “A-HA” moments, when something familiar suddenly surprises you with something you had never noticed, reminding you to always be alert. I recall this distinctly happening while at an art museum, gazing at a well known painting. I was familiar with the picture, but it wasn’t until I saw the frenzied brush strokes, the delicately mixed paint, the drops of white that made the colors around burst to life. That was an A-HA moment, a reminder to never grow comfortable with the world at large.
I had another A-HA moment recently when reading Scripture. I’ve been reading about the life of David and its been a bit unsettling at times. David is first introduced as a man who will seek after God’s heart, who will be a faithful king as opposed to Saul. With this initial description, its easy to fantasize and romanticize David, holding him up as the perfect example of faithfulness and devotion. And yet this is the guy who eventually abuses his kingly power by impregnating another man’s wife and then murdering him to cover his tracks. This is the guy whose son rapes his daughter and all he does is slap him on the wrist and send him on his way. This is the man after God’s heart.
Recently, I was opened to the dynamic nature of David’s character again in a place I had never noticed it before. 1 Samuel 24-26 contains three stories about David. David first spares Saul’s life when he enters into a cave to relieve himself, not knowing that David is hiding in the back of the cave. David chooses to let Saul go free rather than kill him, stating that it is the Lord’s role to avenge, not him. Following this, David and his men ask for Nabal to feed them for watching over his shepherds and sheep. Nabal foolishly refuses and David is about ready to decimate his entire household had not Abigail rushed to David and asked for forgiveness. David acquiesces and Nabal dies not too long after by the Lord’s hand. Finally, David sneaks into Saul’s camp and has the opportunity to kill him once again. And again, David refuses to kill Saul, leaving vengeance and retribution in the Lord’s hand.
In these three stories, we get a simultaneous glimpse of David’s devotion to God and his utter rashness. David is twice willing to spare Saul, a man who seeks to kill David, and yet he also is ready and willing to slaughter an entire family over a failure to provide provisions. It is the actions of Abigail that keep David from taking innocent blood, reminding him to leave things in God’s hands.
I find it interesting that when David is in a position of powerlessness, with his four hundred men compared to Saul’s thousands, he trusts in the Lord, acknowledging that Saul was still God’s anointed. Yet, when David is in a position of power, with four hundred fighting men compared to a single household, he is willing to kill when he doesn’t get his way.
Our culture views powerlessness as a form of weakness, something to be avoided at all costs. But maybe powerlessness and weakness are gifts from God which invite us to greater dependency and trust in Him. Even more, maybe powerlessness and weakness are not just gifts, but insights into the life and character of God, the God who enters this world as a baby, the God who displays his character not in displays of militaristic power, but in an act of powerlessness, helplessness, and absolute weakness.