Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage (I Kings 2) transports me to the the movie house where the Godfather trilogy displays revenge and family intrigue to the nth degree. The only story that I know of matching this cinematic epic of five-family violence and father-son fidelity is the story of King David. The Bible tells us that he was a man after God’s own heart, and here in our passage he begins his last will and testament by encouraging his son, Prince Solomon, to walk faithfully in the way of the Lord. Then he proceeds to order hits on all those who had crossed him. Don’t let his gray hair go to the grave in peace! . . .Bring his gray hair to the grave in blood! Sometimes I’m not sure what part of God’s heart Don David was after – was he after the merciful God, slow to anger and full of steadfast love? Maybe David was in sync with Sigmund Freud, who said one must forgive one’s enemies, but not before they are hanged. Or was this giant-slaying godfather after the divine prerogative to decide who lives and who dies? Could it be that his hot pursuit for the heart of God was the same thing James and John were after when they asked Jesus to let them sit next to him on his heavenly throne?
Whatever he was after in pursuing God, David was surely after revenge in pursuing his enemies – even after death. He would have revised the lyrics to the old Statler Brothers song: I’ll go to my grave hating you. David’s story raises serious questions for me about hurts and injuries and grudges that seem stubborn enough to accompany me to my grave. How do we let go of old wounds? It’s clear enough that if we don’t figure out how to let them go, we simply perpetuate the culture of violence seen in this story. Once Solomon becomes King, he honors his father’s wishes and sends out the death sentence. And then, his brother comes to the castle with a simple request of his own, for a particular bride. For some reason, this raises Solomon’s suspicions, and he has his brother whacked, believing that such a marriage would threaten his throne.
Cycles of revenge and cultures of violence are hard to break. I don’t imagine myself ever going to the lengths David and Solomon and Don and Sonny went to in shedding the blood of an enemy. But I understand the difficulty in letting go of the need for some kind of retribution, some kind of justice, when I have been wronged. I know that it is unhealthy to carry this kind of baggage around. I understand the theory that forgiveness is oftentimes more for the sake of the injured party than it is for the sake of the one who injured. But I haven’t quite learned the practice of full forgiveness. The old wounds tend to haunt my dreams.
I hope to live a full life, and when it comes time for me to crawl onto my deathbed, I hope that I’ll have a different set of final wishes than David. I hope to generate more of the Christlike spirit embodied by James Nayler, the early Quaker who suffered horrible and cruel persecution for his faith, and whose deathbed testimony included these words: There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thought to any other. If it be betrayed, it bears it, for its ground and spring is the mercies and forgiveness of God.