Saul: A Permanent Solution To A Temporary Problem
I Samuel 31:1-7
I know it is hard to believe, but it is true…
Every four minutes one of our fellow Americans attemps suicide; and every fifteen minutes one of those attempts is successful. In nearly one-half of our fifty states suicide ranks among the top ten causes of death. Most tragic of all, suicide occurs most frequently among people in our society who are in the range of sixteen to twenty-five years of age.
Of all the tragedies that mar the human experience, suicide is the one which upsets and disturbs us the most. Whenever this tragedy happens to someone we know, it triggers a tidal wave of questions and anxieties. We cannot help but ask why such a thing occurred, or what went wrong, or who failed. Something deep within cries out for an explanation of this ultimate rejection of life. Nothing quite tests the limits of our faith like suicide, especially the suicide of the young. Yet it seems to me that we are having to confront the issue more and more frequently these days.
It’s sad to think that there are so many people who are giving up on the business of living. It’s sad to think that there are so many people in our nation who become so discouraged, who lose their sense of self-esteem, who see themselves without purpose in life, who give up their dreams and their goals, who so lose their grip on their circumstances that they move to opt out of life. It’s sad to think that so many people chose “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
Well, I want to say to you today, in the name of Jesus Christ, that there is no problem, no difficulty, no circumstance in life which is so permanent and final as to warrant the permanent solution of taking one’s life. I say to you in the name of Jesus Christ that there is no time in the course of our human journey, no matter how harrowing that journey may be, when giving up is a viable option. I want to say to you in the name of Jesus Christ that nothing in life can defeat us unless we decide to accept defeat, nothing can destroy us unless we are willing to be destroyed, nothing can beat us unless we surrender.
In order to carve that truth into the deepest recesses of your heart, I want to hold up before you the case of King Saul. He is one of the most fascinating and one of the most tragic figures on the pages of Scripture. Saul had so much going for him. Why, then, did he end up a suicide, a totally defeated and embittered man? It is a question we do well to answer. Therefore, I want us to try to pierce the darkness that surrounded Saul’s life and to see, for our own enlightenment, the factors which led to his failure.
First, Saul opted for a permanent solution to his temporary problem because he neglected to claim the promise of the abilities he had within him.
At the beginning of his life, Saul the son of Kish, seemed to possess all of the ingredients necessary for a successful life. He was an impressive man physically: handsome, standing head and shoulders taller than anyone else in Israel. He was an impressive man socially; prominent family, respected and affluent. He was an impressive man personally; refreshingly humble, yet possessed of a charismatic flair which enabled him to inspire other people to action. That’s the way he began his life. And what is important for us to remember is that when he came to the end of his life he still had all of those marvelous gifts and abilities intact. He had lost not a single one of them. The problem was that he had lost sight of that truth.
It seems to be that there is no issue of any greater practical significance than this issue of self-image. How do you view the gifts and abilities God has given you in life? Everything depends upon your response. To live joyfully, creatively, meaningfully, purposefully is to accept what God has created you to be. Until you come to terms with who God made you to be, your life will never be completely fulfilled.
It’s so important for you to learn that. Listen: You are here because God wants you to be here. Before the foundation of the world He decided who you would be and what role you would play in the great drama of creation. You are important to God and to His world and no one can take that away from you. You are of infinite value to God. You are a joy to our Lord’s heart. You are a jewel, unique and priceless. You are God’s masterpiece, fashioned by His very own hand. He has written His name across your life. I don’t care how you feel today—believe it. I don’t care how many times you feel that you have failed in the past—believe it. It’s like the bumper sticker says: “God don’t make no junk;” and God, my friends, made you. Never forget that, no matter what happens, never forget that.
I learned something about Fritz Kreisler, the great violinist. His parents started him on the violin early in life, but he was never very good. As a matter of fact, he couldn’t even get into the local orchestra. He gave it up and joined the army. He was a failure as a soldier. He tried a few other things—didn’t succeed at those either. Finally he recognized that God had given him some ability with the violin, but it was going to take tremendous effort to develop that gift. So he went to a noted violin teacher and he said: “I want you to teach me everything you know and I’ll make this promise: No matter what you demand of me I will never give up, I will never quit.” And Fritz Kreisler went on to become the greatest violinist of his day.
What’s the lesson? God has given all of us certain gifts and abilities. No matter what happens, no matter what circumstances surround us, no matter what difficulties we may encounter, we need to remember that those gifts and abilities are still there, and that will keep us from giving up, that will be enough to keep us living on.
Secondly, Saul opted for a permanent solution for his temporary problems because he neglected to claim the support of the people he had around him.
At the end of his life Saul thought that no one cared about him, but that wasn’t true. The whole nation cared. The Bible tells us that when Saul died all Israel went into mourning. The Bible tells us that Saul’s military assistant so loved and revered Saul that when Saul asked the assistant to kill him, he wouldn’t do it. The Bible tells us that when David and his men learned of Saul’s death, they mourned and wept and fasted in deep grief. The Bible tells us that the men from Jabesh-gilead, out of love for Saul, risked their lives to retrieve his body and give him a decent burial. Yes, the Bible makes it plain that many people cared about Saul and supported him; the problem was that Saul failed to remember that and, therefore, he chose to take his own life.
Of course, that’s what suicide really is. It’s focusing on yourself and forgetting about the people around you. It’s forgetting that there is a God who created you and gave you life and loves you with His own life. It’s forgetting that there are parents who gave you bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh. It’s forgetting that there are friends and loved ones who are willing to stand by you in good times and in bad. It’s forgetting that there’s still a world that needs you and the things you have to offer. So don’t ever let yourself get to the point of wanting to give up. There are people who care about you.
Some years ago there was born, here in America, a young girl who was both black and poor—two strikes against her. She had a third strike against her as well: she was very sickly. After several years of ill health, though she was still young, she told her mother that she wanted to die. Her mother cared too much for her to let that happen, so she said to the young girl: “Down by the creek there is a large stone. I want you to get that stone and bring it up to the kitchen door to use as a step.” The girl replied: “Mother, I’m too weak to lift that stone.” The mother said: “I know you can’t lift it, but you can push it, or shove it, or drag it. I want you to work at it. I don’t care how long it takes, just get that stone to the kitchen door.” It took her one month and eighteen days to move that stone. A healthy girl could have moved it in twenty minutes or so; but her mother wouldn’t let her quit. Every day she made her work at the task and what happened? Well, as she worked she gained strength. The exercise and the challenge began to build up both her body and her spirit. Eventually she became strong—strong enough to be an athlete. Tennis became her game. There came a time a few years back, when thousands of people stood and applauded as that black girl, Althea Gibson, walked to the royal box of Queen Elizabeth II at Wimbledon and received the crown as the finest woman tennis player in the world.
Please, my beloved, don’t ever forget that people care about you. People need you, people love you. So when you think you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot there and hang on. There’s enough here to keep us living on.
Then thirdly, Saul opted for a permanent solution for his temporary problem because he neglected to claim the resources of the God he had beside him.
What a shame that Saul never looked back into the history of his own people to see God at work in the nation of Israel. Had Saul done that, he might have found enough hope to keep living on. Had Saul taken the time to reflect on that, he could have seen a God who is like a shepherd caring tenderly for all His flock. This meant that all those who were struggling and all those who were straggling got extra attention. And, in the great procession of humanity, who had struggled any more, or who straggled any farther behind than that rag-tag group of slaves down in Egypt? Yet it was to them that this great shepherd God turned His attention in the way He brought them out of slavery, like a shepherd carrying His lambs in His arms. He made known to the world what He is really like: A God whose love meets us at our point of need; a God whose love never fails.
That’s a truth we need to write deeply upon our hearts, for we are living in a time when tragedy and despair and uncertainty seem to be the order of the day. Therefore, we must never forget that this is still our Father’s world. We can rest ourselves in the thought that He is still in charge. He is still in control. He still governs. He still rules. He still loves…and He will never let us go.
It was John Calvin who said: “What would become of us if we did not take our stand upon hope, if we did not move through the darkness of this world on the path which is illumined by the Word and the Spirit of God?”
If only Saul had understood that, perhaps it would have made a difference in the end of his story. Perhaps he would have turned to God and found the never-failing love of God and the never-ending hope which God sets before us. I don’t know, but this much I do know: if Saul had turned to God, God would have done whatever He had to do to save Saul. That’s what the Bible promises.
They once asked John McNeile of Scotland why he had never preached a sermon on John 3:16. He said: “Because I have that in every sermon.” Well, here it is in this sermon: “God so loved…” Wait, you know the words as well as I do, say them with me: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” God so loved the world, God so loved you, God so loved me that He gave us His Son, Jesus Christ. God came to us in Jesus Christ, meeting us at our point of need, accommodating Himself to our condition, accepting us as we are, with all of our weaknesses and failures, with all of our defects and defeats, in order to give us hope and victory and salvation and eternal life.
Let me express it in terms of a story told by a surgeon, Dr. Richard Selzer. He operated on a young woman and removed a tumor from her cheek. In order to do that he had to sever the facial nerve to the muscles of her mouth. It left her mouth twisted, permanently, into a hideous, palsied, clownish grin. After the surgery he was in her room and this is what he says: “Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I asked myself, he and this wry-mouthed creature I have made, who gaze at each other and touch each other so generously and tenderly? The young woman speaks to me: ‘Will my mouth always be like this?’ she asks. ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘it will.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. ‘I like it,’ he says. ‘It’s kind of cute.’ All at once I know who he is. I understand and I lower my gaze, for one is not bold when one encounters the Love of God. Unmindful of my presence, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close that I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works, that their love still lives.”
Please hear that. God never rejects us. God comes to us in Jesus Christ to accommodate Himself to us. God comes to us in Jesus Christ to accept up just as we are. God never gives up on us; therefore, no matter what happens, we can never give up on life.
We come to the end of the story of Saul. It’s the story of one, and it’s the story of many, but it doesn’t have to be the story of any. For this is our story. This is our song: Jesus is mine, Jesus is yours. That is enough, my beloved, that is enough, to keep us living on…