The morning started out like most of them do for me. I paced my livingroom and kitchen with a cup of coffee in my hand, and tried to focus on the reality of the presence of God. A tough sell, some mornings.
And for some reason, an old unanswered question was rolling through my head again. What went wrong? Why didn’t it turn out the way I envisioned, the way I felt God had promised me?
I was referring to my failed “marriage” of 15 years. Sure, failed marriages aren’t that unusual. And most people (I imagine) get through them without having to re-examine their whole theological and spiritual framework. But, ya know, I’m weird that way. When we first got together, X and I (I’ll just refer to him as “X” here, since I’m not trying to drag his name through the mud) — when we first got together, there were all kinds of divine indicators that we were on the right path, that we had a bright and purposeful future ahead of us. There was every indication that we had the divine seal of approval, the go-ahead, a mission, and the blessing. (Okay, if you’re not of a particular charismatic bent where you believe God speaks in sometimes very powerful and mystical ways, then don’t freak out. Just skip over that last part, and read on.) But those things didn’t pan out. The visions didn’t materialize, the promise of that loving and purposeful future evaporated, and instead of becoming more focused, we grew more and more estranged from each other. And then we ended it.
No major drama. That’s not the story here. We both knew we failed. We both recognized that we hadn’t lived up to our own expectations and obligations. We knew we had vast differences that we’d stopped trying to reconcile; it was just too much work and too tiring to continue. Somewhere along the way, at different points for each of us, we’d just given up. Nothing extraordinary about it — it was/is a completely human story. I understood that part of it.
But what I still couldn’t make sense of
was how all that spiritual stuff fit in.
Hadn’t God told me that he was “the One”? Didn’t God tell us …? Weren’t there specific promises, clear descriptions of what would happen? And even if we blew it, what did that say about the divine side of it all? How do “alternate endings” — ends of the story that deviate from the original plan — fit with in the divine scheme of things, especially when “God has spoken”?
So, sipping my dark French roast, trying to wake up and clear my head for the day, that question rolled in again out of nowhere.
Okay, whatever; I thought. Let’s move on. Got lots to do today. And I cracked open my Bible (cuz, you know, it’s always a good idea to start your day out that way, right? And if you’ve got unanswered questions rolling through your head, ya never know what might jump out at ya from the pages and make things clearer.)
And there it was. Simple. Seemingly inconsequential. And it hit me like a ton of bricks.
And the LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I’m sending you to Bethlehem, to Jesse, for I have chosen one of his sons to be king …” (1 Sam 16:1)
Not getting it? That’s probably because you hadn’t just read the few preceding chapters in 1 Samuel the day before. Ancient Israel had been ruled for generations by a series of Judges, inspired leaders, who lived normal lives and then did extraordinary things when the nation was in danger. But they wanted a king, like all the other nations. God wasn’t crazy about the idea, knowing the particular weakness humans have when it comes to power, and seeing it as a rejection of Him as their true King. But, like an indulgent father, he gave in to his whiney children and let Samuel anoint Saul as the first king of Israel. And as confirmation, when Saul was anointed, he became a changed person. His heart changed, he prophesied, and he did some amazing things. And he was promised a lasting dynasty and a blessed future. (Seeing the connection now?) But Saul ignored some basic commands from Samuel — instructions his kingship rested upon. His position was dependent on God’s empowerment, and it was conditional upon his particular obedience. And he blew it. Twice. And finally God had enough.
And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done a foolish thing. You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you. If you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him to be ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.” (1Sa 13:13-14)
It was over. And God sent Samuel to go anoint David, Jesse’s son, as the next king. And that “kingdom established forever” promise now went to David.
God can be pretty tolerant. He puts up with a lot of stuff from us, his kids. But when it comes to important stuff — usually involving other people he cares about, things he’s made you responsible for — he can reach a point, draw a line in the sand, and say “that’s it. You’ve had your chance. I still love you, of course, but I’m giving this job to someone else.”
Plan B. Alternate ending. And nevermind about all those blessings and that glorious future he promised. His love is unconditional and eternal. But promises, it seems, are another story. Promises that go with a particular job, role or function, depend on the performance of that function.
And me and X, well, we’d given up on that function, particularly where it came to dealing with each other. Sure, we had a mission and a purpose in our joint venture of a life beyond the love and mutual care-giving of a committed relationship. I’m not sure if the two were dependent on each other (the mission and the love), but the mission definitely wasn’t happening when the love part got neglected. And, like Saul’s kingship, our reign ended with a whimper instead of a bang.
But the good news is, the story doesn’t end just because the ending changes.
That’s Plan B. It’s a message of hope. A promise (this one unattached to performance) that God will work things out for our good, even if the characters and the plot of our story get changed.
“How long will you keep mourning?
Now get up, … I have provided a replacement for you …”
That’s what hit me like a ton of bricks. My story isn’t over (not that I ever doubted that it was; eh hem!) Those divine visions and promises for the future for X and me were performance-based. We failed. We didn’t hold up to our side of the promise. And yes, we’re forgiven. Yes, we’re still loved. But that story line is ended. And I don’t need to worry about it, don’t need to fret — don’t need to mourn it any longer. A new ending is being written — an alternate ending. And that “established kingdom” — how ever that figuratively translates into my own personal life — is being established through another.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all marriages are mission-based, but they all may very well be performance-based. If you don’t fulfill your marital duties to each other, you can’t really expect that marriage to last, divine promises or no. But our God is a God of second chances, of alternate endings. Of Plan B. Hopefully, we’ll do better this time around.
I’ll send you an invitation to the wedding …
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He blogs at CafeInspirado.com, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.