In the tension

Life in the Postmodern Shift

August 17, 2022 | Opinion | Volume 26 Issue 17
Troy Watson | Columnist
(Photo by Ed Stone/Unsplash)

A couple weeks ago, I came across this verse in I Samuel 18: “David continued to succeed in everything he did, for the Lord was with him.”

I stopped reading and paused to process this bizarre statement. You see, the context of this passage revealed what David had succeeded in the most—the killing of his enemies in armed combat. In fact, a few verses earlier, David is celebrated for slaying tens of thousands of Moabites, Ammonites and Philistines. What was the secret to David’s success in battle? According to the author of I Samuel, it was because the Lord was with him.

Really? Did God actually help David slay other human beings who were also made in the image of God?

The notion was offensive to my modern Anabaptist values and beliefs. It seemed impossible, ridiculous even. This clearly contradicts the way of Jesus. I quickly disregarded the statement as a reflection of the biased and limited perspective of an ancient author, yet I found myself struggling to move on, simply dismissing it without further reflection.

I wondered if I might be missing out on something valuable, by taking the easy way out. Perhaps, instead of immediately writing this notion off, there was value to be found in living with the tension this passage created in me.

As I sat with the tension, I became surprised at my surprise that the Bible creates tension in me. Why shouldn’t the Bible create tension in us? It’s rooted in real life after all, and real life creates tension in us all the time.

For example, I know a number of Mennonites with roots in Ukraine. Some still have family living there. I see the tension the Russian invasion has created in some of my Mennonite friends, colleagues and acquaintances. It has created tension in me as well.

On the one hand, we are pacifists. We believe the way of Jesus calls us to practise nonviolence and nonresistance. On the other hand, we empathize with Ukrainians standing up to protect their homes, farms, families and country.

I certainly don’t feel I’m in a position to judge Ukrainians who are resisting the invading armies, yet, at the same time, as a person of peace who tries to follow the way of Jesus, I struggle to support their acts of violence and war. I also recognize that if I were in their shoes, this tension would be much more real, terrifyingly real. It is far too easy to hypothesize on the sidelines, like a smug armchair quarterback or backseat driver.

As I get older, I have less black- and-white answers on most issues. What I’m learning to do is live in the tension of our complicated and multi-faceted reality. Instead of looking for clear answers, I’m learning to focus on being open to what the Spirit is pointing or calling me towards.

So when I read Bible verses like “David continued to succeed in everything he did [on the battlefield] because the Lord was with him,” I’m learning to ask, “What is the Spirit revealing to me or calling me towards?”

As I stayed in the tension, I wondered:

  • Is it possible that God interacts with people differently, in different cultures, eras and contexts?
  • Is it possible that God would bless and help a warrior like David in his time and culture, yet might condemn a person for acting the same way in my time and culture?
  • Is it possible that God meets us where we are, in our unique contexts?

Perhaps this means God has different expectations for each of us, depending on our situations and the cards life has dealt us. Maybe God has different expectations of someone born into a stable, nurturing and loving family with privilege, power and wealth, than someone struggling with trauma, abuse or oppression. Maybe God has different expectations for you than God has for me.

I think there might be some truth to this, as Jesus says, “to whom much is given, much is expected.”

I’ve learned that when I’m looking for clarity in this chaotic and complicated world, I’m most likely to find it when I focus on these two questions:

  • What is expected of me?
  • What action or attitude is the Spirit calling me towards?

And often it’s in unresolved tension where God creates an opening for me to sense the answer.

Troy (troy@avonchurch.ca) is a pastor of Avon Mennonite Church in Stratford, Ont. For more on dealing with the tension this topic creates, read the Canadian Mennonite features Let nobody judge them” and “Caring for the least of these.”

Read more Life in the Postmodern Shift columns:
My opinion on opinions
‘Godfidence’ and confidence
Christ in you
Good Friday and the important travel companion
Reta-coloured lenses

(Photo by Ed Stone/Unsplash)

Share this page:

Add new comment

Canadian Mennonite invites comments and encourages constructive discussion about our content. Actual full names (first and last) are required. Comments are moderated and may be edited. They will not appear online until approved and will be posted during business hours. Some comments may be reproduced in print.