Well here we are, only a few short weeks into what will be a marathon and bruising federal election campaign. Rivals Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull are crisscrossing the country in a desperate and energetic attempt to both legitimize their own claims to leadership, and identify and maximize weaknesses in each other.
Three thousand years ago, another desperate and prolonged attempt at maintaining power was being waged across the broad and inhospitable wilderness areas of ancient Israel, and this is where we pick up the story of the deadly rivalry between King Saul and David in chapters 23 and 24 of 1Samuel.
Ongoing battles are bubbling away both within and without Israel. On the outside there is threat, especially from the Philistines, with whom the Israelites are in constant conflict over land and resources. On the inside, Saul is compromising his Kingly role to protect the people against outside enemies, by instead spending energy and resources obsessively and fearfully pursuing his political rival, David. This is a deadly game of hide and seek played out in wilderness mountains, caves and the occasional village.
And further in, this is a story of intimate relationship trauma. Mistrust and betrayal destroying generational and familial bonds. Saul’s son Jonathon walking an unbearably tight line of loyalty to his father and love of his friend, David. Saul and David, once as dear to each other as father and son, now tragic rivals, filled with remorse and sorrow over their loss of relationship.
Are you ever astonished at the humility of the brutal and unflinching honesty of the Hebrew scriptures? Where is the attempt to idealise and massage the story of Israel’s experience of monarchy and those who were her Kings?
Instead, in these scriptures we seem to have received the precious gift of a mirror. Do we have the courage and stability to gaze and truly see ourselves? Can we see glimpses of our own terror, our fear and envy of the other as competitor rather than friend? Can we see our own grief, rage and confusion at the painful and sometimes inexplicable breakdown of relationships?
Friends, we (like Israel) are invited to face with honesty our inner truth (instead of blaming everybody else), by the God who is constant, compassionate and loyal. He invites us always into the freedom which our fear denies us. In our own strength we must forever battle and defend. However, as we face our fear in the presence and arms of God, we become real and true (no more fruitless hiding) – the mystery of forgiveness and peace. And forgiveness and peace is just what we need to negotiate, and even bless, tricky and trying human relationships.
It may also help as we witness the ferocious showdown between Malcolm and Bill.