1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 and Psalm 9:9-20 or 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 18:10-16 and Psalm 133 • Job 38:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 • 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 • Mark 4:35-41
Except for a few key verse omissions, this week's 1 Samuel readings provide a lot of great material. The text provides the reader with much insight on how humans relate to each other: that is, not well! Seeing how human beings function in clusters of three – triangles, we'll call them – is useful.
In the structure of human relationship processes, triangles have everything to do with functional capacity. In healthy triangles, each of three people has a good relationship with the other two. When challenges come, whatever tension results can be managed without anyone taking sides. Ideally, each person can move comfortably to the inside or the outside position, depending on what's needed. Usually, relationships work less well.
Take today's story of David and Goliath. Before David can fight Goliath, he first has to convince Saul that he is the right man for the job. He begins by describing scenes from his years as a shepherd where he had learned to fight wild beasts. He moves from that point to likening Goliath to a wild animal and calling him an 'uncircumcised Philistine.' Saul, joining with David in his derision of Goliath, then agrees that David may fight him. The two insiders of the triangle use the third side as a way to agree.
Next, Saul tries to continue joining with David – literally insisting that David wear his (Saul's) armor to fight the enemy. David tries, but then declines to keep the armor on. I can't fight in these things, he says. David manages the triangle by staying firmly in his own corner: without drawing so close to Saul that he loses himself.
Things get more complicated in the triangle between Saul, David, and Saul's son, Jonathan. David and Jonathan each had a relationship with Saul; to David, Saul was the ruler who had looked with favor on him; to Jonathan, he was Dad. For both David and Jonathan, though, the relationship with Saul was getting more erratic by the day. One never knew whether Saul would be welcoming or throwing a spear at you! David and Jonathan bonded over this common experience of the dangerous, unpredictable Saul. The intensity of their friendship (1 Samuel 18:3) reflected Saul's intensity. Their biblical closeness was necessary to warn each other of his moods – working their side of the triangle made a huge difference.
The Saul-David-Goliath triangle was a rigid one. Goliath was never going to move to the inside of a triangle with tribal enemies on the other two corners. Perhaps early on, the Saul-David-Jonathan was a tad more flexible, with some moments of closeness between each of the three. The continued threat of the Philistines, though, who failed to keep the winner-take-all bargain originally offered by Goliath, influenced how the Saul-David-Jonathan triangle worked. In human relationships, anxiety is often managed through triangles, which can range – and change – from the very flexible to the very rigid.
It's useful to begin to notice triangles. Seeing how a group is wired – and this is easiest and most important with family, although happening everywhere – sets one up to see much more than is possible alone. The challenge is to relate to both sides: to see the position of each of the others clearly, while still maintaining one's own view. Overall, the more one can begin to be an observer of these relationship processes, the more a person can see the available options for defining oneself.
Morning: What are the important triangles in my life?
Evening: What did I notice about relationship processes today?
Psalm 133:1 How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!