Through June and July I, and the others who lead worship at Potters Bar when I’m not there, are going to be reflecting on the life and career of King David. We will read the texts given by the Revised Common Lectionary for this period from the First and Second Books of Samuel and the First Book of Kings, which trace David’s story, and will look for what these tell us about our Christian faith and about how to live as disciples of Jesus. Anne, Roger, Tony, Richard and I will all be grappling with these ancient texts about a war-lord and ruler who lived some 3,000 years ago. On Monday evenings our Bible Study group will follow the same course, allowing those who participate to bring their own perspectives, ask their own questions and pose their own problems in relation to this old, old tale.
I’ve struggled to understand why this seemed like such a good idea to me and what this strange and bloody saga of intrigue, warfare, sexual misconduct and family feuding has to say to contemporary Christians in the home counties of England. This has been difficult but, in the end, very rewarding.
It can sometimes seem like the Church has little connection with “real life”. The great issues of politics are usually conducted without reference to Christianity, with religion featuring only as a problem to be dealt with. Islamic terrorism is a persistent threat and the churches can be seen as old-fashioned and backward looking institutions, behind the times on a range of ethical issues where their objections are politely noted and then ignored. Where people of faith are visible it is as odd and marginal characters to be carefully put to one side.
Dealing with the story of the Kingdoms of Israel in the Bible reminds us that from the point of view of those who are part of the people of God things look very different. The God we worship, Sunday by Sunday, is a God who created all things and who is present in history, struggling to make real his rule of peace and justice. The events of history, as they are reported in the Bible, as to be interpreted as revealing God working with and through people to realise God’s good purposes.
This can be very difficult when we look around the world we inhabit. A world in which many millions of people, from Afghanistan, from Syria, from Somalia or from Sudan, are forced from their homes by conflict and have nowhere safe to go; where children are mistreated and abused by those in positions of trust; where hate-filled terrorists murder people quite unknown to them. How can such a world be one created and overseen by a good and loving God?
These are the very questions that were at the forefront of the minds of those who edited and completed the texts we know as the Old Testament. They were exiles, refugees, in Babylon, at the centre of the empire that had destroyed their homes and desecrated their holy places. They and their families had witnessed and undergone the horrors of war and conquest at the hands of a foreign army that rejected their religion. This had happened despite their profound conviction that they had been chosen by God to be his holy people.
They were determined to remain faithful and needed to understand how they had come to be where they were. They were also determined to continue to look for signs of who God was and what he wanted them to do in the chaos and despair of their situation. They believed that if one looked at history, in all its darkness, in the right way then God would be found there and that he will make good on his promises of salvation. They remained hopeful and steadfast, in their search for insight, in their living according to God’s way and in their confidence that they would be restored to a full national life in accordance with the Law.
In reading the written record they left of their endeavour to remain true we can learn a great deal about how to the People of God, which is what the Church is called to be. No matter how dark times are, for the Church or for the world, we are bearers of the promise of salvation.