(June 6): 1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15) and Psalm 138 • Genesis 3:8-15 and Psalm 130 • 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 • Mark 3:20-35
If a person is interested in understanding human emotional process, this week's reading from I Samuel is an important text. In it, the Hebrew people are demanding their first king. They have lived for many years with 'judges' in their midst – leaders who could be called upon to sort out a difficult dispute within the community, or lead in a skirmish with another tribe. Now, though, they are done with this informal approach to leadership. They want their own king.
Their reasoning? Well, it went something like this: Other nations have kings, we should too. He will govern us. He will lead in war, fighting our battles (1 Samuel 8:20). The immaturity is noteworthy in three ways. First, the unquestioning assumption that what others have is the important thing. Second, that they would prefer another in charge, rather than governing themselves. And third, their desire to find someone who would go out before them into combat, fighting their battles, and signaling their own lack of courage.
This week, I've been re-reading Paul Tillich's The Courage to Be. Say what you will about Tillich (and apparently, he's controversial in some circles), this book goes to the heart of the matter. Briefly, being true to oneself requires courage. Following Spinoza, Tillich describes the courage of "self-affirmation" not as an isolated act in an individual, but as ultimately unselfish.
In demanding a king, the people had avoided self-affirmation. Samuel tried to tell them what they would be giving up. He described in vivid detail how a king would lord it over them, taxing them, enslaving them, and taking their sons for battle and their daughters for his personal needs. In demanding a king, they were giving up any chance for self-governance, and instead, increasing their chances of helplessness over matters where they had previously had control.
Tillich (p. 36-37) described helplessness as a common expression of anxiety, present in many species, and marked by indecisiveness. Courage begins with engaging a challenge and thinking through one's own options. But individuals, families, and congregations can all move towards helpless postures automatically; under stress it's even more likely. Once helplessness creeps in, most of us are looking around for someone else to figure things out.
Instead of looking to others to decide what to do, a person has the option of self-regulation. Although one can neither control nor be responsible for any other adult, becoming king or queen of oneself is in the realm of the possible. Putting on an imaginary crown, considering different emotions and thoughts as 'subjects' for your consideration, can be both fun and instructive. Finding the inner authority to manage one's own emotional system, harnessing it to one's intellectual system, promotes self-rule. Regarding oneself, a person has many choices to make.
Sacrificing self-rule, the Hebrew people demanded a king. What happened next? The text jumps ahead a few chapters to let us know that Samuel reluctantly gave in to them, anointing Saul as their ruler. The Old Testament readings for most of the summer are set in I and II Samuel: providing a rich set of stories on human immaturity and its consequences.
Morning: What might get in the way of my own self-rule today?
Evening: When did I notice myself feeling helpless?
Psalm 138:6 For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.