Sunday, May 14, 2006

Better criteria for choosing leaders; a confusing passage

So earlier I mentioned that when you're selecting a king or a leader, there might be better criteria than "How tall is he?" In the following passage, we see Samuel learning about this:
Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed stands here before the Lord"

But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height.... Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

- 1 Samuel 16.7
So it's not necessarily how clever a guy seems, it's not how tall or good-looking he is, but it's something else, something about the man's character that we should look for in a leader.

Is this what we look for in a plumber, a doctor, a carpenter, an engineer, an accountant, an attorney? I guess those things are a mixture. A man of integrity can still write lousy code. You want both ability and integrity. You have to stay in business, besides running the business ethically. But I think the current American practice of completely ignoring character (think Enron, Microsoft, Worldcom) is somewhat out of kilter.

Now as I read through the rest of 1 Samuel chapter 16, I came to this passage:
Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.

Saul's attendants said to him, "See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the harp. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes upon you, and you will feel better."
- 1 Samuel 16.14-16
Now is that weird or what? First, how can there be an evil spirit from the Lord? Then, doesn't that seem unfair, to send something like that to poor old Saul? Then what's with the harp? The whole thing seems a little like magic spells and stuff.

Well, I don't have this all sewn up, but I do have a couple of thoughts.
  • About the harp and the evil spirit (some translations say an "unclean" spirit): from passages like this I get the impression that a lot of knowledge ("lore" if you prefer) has been lost over the centuries.

    Now don't look at me cockeyed - it's not so far-fetched. Within our lifetimes technological knowhedge has simply disappeared. Where did I read about this -- some huge guns on the USS Iowa (iirc), built maybe 50 years ago, cannot be repaired or replaced today. Or violin-making: Stradivarius did things that we can't do today.

    So when the Philistine lords are told, "if the cart goes to Israel, we'll know that this disaster is from the Lord", I don't think those guys were just making stuff up. Not that everything these guys said was true; the Scriptures give us lots of cases where people made stuff up, and sure enough it turned out to be wrong. But the Bible seems to take for granted that spiritual phenomena can be discerned by humans.

    It may seem strange to think that a computer professional believes some of these things, but, well, what's the alternative? A long time ago I just discarded the Bible entirely, and that didn't get me very far along the path to righteousness.

  • About God's sending an evil spirit to Saul: I don't fully get that. It's like those passages about how "God hardened Pharoah's heart." Or when Isaiah is sent to "[m]ake the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes" (Isaiah 6.10).

    What bothers me about passages like this is that it seems unfair. Pharoah is made stubborn, then punished for his stubborn refusal to let the children of Israel go. And when Isaiah preaches and people's hearts become calloused etc., won't people suffer for having calloused hearts, dull ears, blind eyes, etc.?

    So one important thing that I have to remember when thinking about these things is that God is not unfair. I'm not sure how many times it says this in the Bible, but right off the top of my head I remember Hebrews 6.something "God is not unjust", and there's a verse somewhere in Romans that says, "for there is no partiality with God." So I need to remember that.

    Second, considering the life of Saul, in 1 Samuel 15.23 it says "Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king." So the Lord has already rejected Saul as king by this point in the story. Could it be that when the evil spirit is sent to Saul in 1 Samuel 16.14, that this is part of God's judgment?

    That's just a possibility, and it may not even be the right one. But even if it isn't, the Bible does say clearly that God is fair and just and full of compassion, grace and mercy besides. So whatever the explanation for these things is, it's not that God is unfair.

    By the way, I think the reason some of these things are so hard to understand is that we cannot understand ourselves. I'm not sure, but this may be related to Gödel's incompleteness theorem (about which more later).
Thassit for tonight.

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