“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare once wrote. Yet as we step onto its floorboards, there will be times when we wonder what sort of play we enact. Tragedy? Comedy? And the greatest prophets of our day insist that there is nothing in our script not inscribed there by nurture or nature—the dispassionate playwrights of an empty human drama. “There is not one big cosmic meaning for all,” writes international novelist Anaias Nin. “There is only the meaning we give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.” Yet suffering, times spent in the wilderness—these things give us pause as we consider how to make sense of the story God seems to be writing in our lives.
DEJU VU ALL OVER AGAIN
Once again David has the chance to solve his problems on his own terms.
Then the Ziphites came to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding himself on the hill of Hachilah, which is on the east of Jeshimon?” 2 So Saul arose and went down to the wilderness of Ziph with three thousand chosen men of Israel to seek David in the wilderness of Ziph. 3 And Saul encamped on the hill of Hachilah, which is beside the road on the east of Jeshimon. But David remained in the wilderness. When he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness, 4 David sent out spies and learned that Saul had indeed come. 5 Then David rose and came to the place where Saul had encamped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, with Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army. Saul was lying within the encampment, while the army was encamped around him.
Though outnumbered, David has the upper hand. With the element of surprise once again on his side, David could turn this battle in his favor by taking out Saul—or send another in his stead.
6 Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Joab’s brother Abishai the son of Zeruiah, “Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?” And Abishai said, “I will go down with you.” 7 So David and Abishai went to the army by night. And there lay Saul sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and Abner and the army lay around him. 8 Then Abishai said to David, “God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.” 9 But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” 10 And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. 11 The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. But take now the spear that is at his head and the jar of water, and let us go.” 12 So David took the spear and the jar of water from Saul’s head, and they went away. No man saw it or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them.
Abishai could have easily done David’s dirty work for him. David’s commitment remains steadfast. Surely by this time David must have wondered whether the game would ever end. Would he be trapped on the run forever?
DAVID AND ABNER
Abner was Saul’s bodyguard. Yet ironically Saul’s life was spared not by Saul’s bodyguard, but by Saul’s would-be assassin.
13 Then David went over to the other side and stood far off on the top of the hill, with a great space between them. 14 And David called to the army, and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, “Will you not answer, Abner?” Then Abner answered, “Who are you who calls to the king?” 15 And David said to Abner, “Are you not a man? Who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not kept watch over your lord the king? For one of the people came in to destroy the king your lord. 16 This thing that you have done is not good. As the Lord lives, you deserve to die, because you have not kept watch over your lord, the Lord’s anointed. And now see where the king’s spear is and the jar of water that was at his head.”
DAVID AND SAUL
David now confronts Saul.
17 Saul recognized David’s voice and said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And David said, “It is my voice, my lord, O king.” 18 And he said, “Why does my lord pursue after his servant? For what have I done? What evil is on my hands? 19 Now therefore let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If it is the Lord who has stirred you up against me, may he accept an offering, but if it is men, may they be cursed before the Lord, for they have driven me out this day that I should have no share in the heritage of the Lord, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.’ 20 Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth away from the presence of the Lord, for the king of Israel has come out to seek a single flea like one who hunts a partridge in the mountains.”
Notice that though Saul addresses David as “son,” any affection David might have had is gone. As before, David’s loyalty rests with God—not with the character of Saul. David insists that searching out a lowly “flea” or “partridge” was beneath the king’s dignity.
Saul repents, though once again his words ring hollow:
21 Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake.” 22 And David answered and said, “Here is the spear, O king! Let one of the young men come over and take it. 23 The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, for the Lord gave you into my hand today, and I would not put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. 24 Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation.” 25 Then Saul said to David, “Blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them.” So David went his way, and Saul returned to his place.
David responds with trust in God. He even returns Saul’s spear—the same one he’d tried to use to kill both David and Jonathan. David sees his trust in God as part of a larger story—a story in which God would make good on his promise to protect and provide for David.
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers—the second part of his beloved Lord of the Rings Series—things look grim for Frodo and Sam, the characters charged with the burdensome task of carrying the ring of power to Mordor. Frodo is at the verge of giving up, when Sam reminds him of why they used to love the stories and tales from their youth:
“The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. … I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?”
“I wonder,” said Frodo. “But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.”
Are you facing difficulty? Would you rather your life be dull, uninteresting? When you get to the end of your life, do you really want to look back at your years and consider them ordinary? The wisest of teachers can’t always tell you what your future holds in store. Your journey might be through a path of suffering—and there may be no light at the end of your tunnel. And this is why Christianity insists that nothing makes sense when divorced from the larger story of eternity. If we understand that God has a greater story to tell, if we see ourselves as bit actors in a far more expansive drama, then that changes everything. Christianity may not dry our tears, but the pain may press us closer to Jesus, and to the reminder that something larger is going on and there is a plan for a happily ever after. Struggles along the way are inevitable—but so is our future joy. Don’t get so lost in present pain that you fail to see future promise.