Friday, November 23, 2007

After God's Own Heart: Love Your Enemies

He testified concerning him: "I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart." (Acts 13:22, cf. 1 Sam 13:14)
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Mat 5:44)
As I was listening to Eric Whitacre's "When David Heard" again this afternoon, I was struck by David's capacity to love even those who would do him harm. Certainly it's well known that David refuses to retaliate against Saul, despite Saul's incessant attempts at David's life (e.g. 1 Sam 24, when David cuts off the corner of Saul's robe in his hiding cave), but this could flow not from love, but merely from a respect for Saul as God's anointed.

Absalom, on the other hand, is another matter altogether.

David's third son Absalom was envious of the royal throne and plotted to usurp David's place. For four years, he flattered courtly visitors and spread self-aggrandizing propaganda to "steal the hearts" of Israel. When the time was right, he gathered sympathizers to declare him king and marched into Jerusalem (2 Sam 15). When David hears that Absalom has died in the ensuing altercation, he is shaken to the core and cries out with profound grief, "O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you--O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Sam 18:33)

Unlike Saul, Absalom had not been granted a special status by God that would command David's respect. Moreover, Absalom was jealous and conspired to bring about David's downfall. And yet, although Absalom expressed contempt and hatred toward his father, David never lost sight of the fact that Absalom was still his son. He continued to love him and sought his welfare, even during the height of his rebellion (2 Sam 18:5).

If not for anything else, David manifests the heart of God in this. For, "God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8). Despite our open rebellion, God looked beyond our contempt for Him, and treating us not as the enemies that we were but as His beloved creation, gave Himself up to pay the fatal penalty of our rebellion in our place so that we may enjoy a reconciled relationship with Him as His children.

And so, like David, like Jesus, let us, too, love those who hate us and would do us harm. For this is the heart of God.