It’s probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Failure after success, defeat after victory. What does that even mean? In hot pursuit of meaning to this paradox I came across a perfect example. I found it in my favorite book no less, the Bible. His name is David and it’s a tragedy. In this book is a short narrative about David, Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Samuel 11). This narrative summarizes the events that lead to the downward spiral for David, the consequences that tore at the heart of his family and the devastation upon his kingdom. Whenever I consider David, this “man after God’s own heart,” and the repeated sins of God’s chosen people, I’m not only reminded of my own nature, I’m humbled by my Savior’s unfailing love (hesedh).
This paradox in Christian life of falling vulnerable to failure after achieving success, is a quandary. But if you’ve been blessed to never having experienced this dilemma then praise God. As we see David’s struggle with sin, however, we also see the kind of struggle we all face. David’s sin was not just a private affair, but also impacted his family, Uriah’s family, and ultimately the entire nation. This reminds us of the severe implications of sin for ourselves and for our communities of influence (e.g., family, church, business, land). This theme as we’ve seen with David and Israel, carries with it dire consequences. 2 Peter 2:20-22 succinctly describes the why but it doesn’t explain the how.
In a broader sense, how is it that when things are going so well, they end up in adversity? Have you ever had a smooth and tranquil walk with the Lord, prayer life wonderful, shared the word with some people, perhaps even lead a church service that was a blessing to all and you feel on top of the world? We commonly call this “a mountain top experience.” Then all of a sudden you find it difficult to pray, there’s no one to share with and the church service seems a little dry. I think they call this one a “valley or desert experience.” I know that the Lord brings these situations about to cultivate our faith and trust in Him, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
Specifically, how at the pinnacle of David’s victorious life, which went on for years I might add, did it end in disaster. How could David, suddenly, out of the blue, stay home when he was supposed to have been somewhere else? I understand that as king, David could take liberties but with David’s penchant for war 1 Chron 28:3 surely one would be suspicious of David’s sudden truancy.
When all is going well and everything is in its place, is it then that we switch on autopilot, take a satisfying deep breath and in a blissful state of “all’s well” our attention is diverted? Is it at that moment that one or all of the diabolical three takes hold, you remember them; “the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life.” In his book titled Forward author David Jeremiah explains it this way; “During World War II, England’s Royal Air Force psychologists discovered that pilots made the most errors as they flew their planes back in for a landing, returning to their bases after flying successful missions. The cause was an almost irresistible tendency to relax. Like pilots and mountain climbers, we can become enamored of our achievements and fail to focus on finishing what we started.” Equally, with our fallen nature, we can become so complacent that we fall into any trap that the father of lies sets for us. After all he knows us better that we know ourselves. What is it then that draws us so subliminally or blatantly to breaking off our relationship with God? When I consider such things my first thought is 1 Cor 10:13a “No temptation has overtaken you but such is as common to man” and I think you’ll agree that that is a reasonable starting point along with Matt 26:41.
Scripture tells us in 1 Peter 5:8 that success is not a time for celebration, not a time to be staying home as David did. For us, it isn’t a time to eat, drink and be merry but a call to vigilance. There is a time however, for most things as stated in Ecclesiastes. But now is not the time to engage autopilot. Maybe we should never have engaged autopilot in the first place. Are we that prone to carelessness and lack of vigilance that we don’t think ahead enough to consider the ramifications of what we are about to do or how it’s all going to end? In David’s case, underlying his violation of Bathsheba and murder of Uriah was his complete disregard for the unprecedented covenant of grace that God had established with him. What ended up as David’s biography could quite as easily end up as ours.
Take heart, you’re not alone in these things, even Elijah had a similar experience. Do you remember the story about Elijah standing on Mt Carmel and calling down the fire from God that wiped out the prophets of Baal? He witnessed the awesome power of God that should have been enough for Elijah to stand boldly and confidently as a representative of God. So instead of shouting “if God is for us who can be against us” he ran for his life when Queen Jezebel threatened to kill him. If that wasn’t enough, Elijah begged God to kill him (1 Kings 19).
So, what is to be said about all of this. Is there a psychological phenomenon that takes place that we don’t understand? Or are we just resting on our laurels. No doubt we all have our own opinions on the matter but the way I view it is this: We sleep only when we’re tired, we eat only when we’re hungry and take notice of some of the other things mentioned in Ecclesiastes. But we should never, ever take a break from vigilance after victory. 1 Peter 5:8 warns us to “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (KJV)
Author Mark Boda summarises David’s account this way “The penitential prayer in Psalm 51 cries out to God based on a clear picture of who God is in relationship to our sin as well as a clear picture of who we are in relationship to our sin. This psalm and the narratives of David’s sin in Samuel challenge us to take seriously the impact of sin and penitence on the broader community. David’s example has shown how the impact of sin is never limited to one individual. In the wake of his foolish act two families were destroyed, a nation was divided and disciplined. Nevertheless, there where sin increases, grace increases even more, and we see the truth of this in the impact of his penitence on the community as a whole: turning people back to God, declaring the mercy of God, and renewing the worship of God. (Boda, M.J., 2007. After God’s Own Heart: The Gospel according to David T. Longman III & J. A. Groves, eds., Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing).