Getting Advice from the Dead

I know a woman who wants to avoid going to the doctor until after she loses weight. “I know what he’s going to tell me,” she protests. “He’ll say you need to lose weight.” Does she then act on this knowledge and begin to control her weight? Of course not. Instead, she grabs a doughnut or three.

Occasionally I give advice to my students, and it’s almost always super profound advice. “Get your work in. Come to class. Read the instructions.” These are not new things. They don’t need somebody with a doctorate to bring this piece of wisdom from Mt. Olympus. They’ve heard the advice before, probably even knowing that it’s right. Do they then act on that knowledge and begin to start owning their education? Of course not. Instead, they catch up on the urgent developments on Instagram.

When Saul, facing yet another attack from the Philistines, doesn’t know where to turn, he goes where you or I would go: to a dead person. He enlists a medium to conjure up Samuel to get advice, because, you know, when God stops talking to you, the best way to get Him to start talking to you again is to do something that’s He’s expressly forbidden.

Samuel appears to the medium, which apparently freaks her out a little. It’s not completely clear whether Saul could see Samuel or not, but the Bible does indicate that directly or indirectly Saul was at least conversing with the man. Before we dismiss Samuel as needlessly cranky in the exchange, we should walk a mile in his shoes. This would require being dead, so that will be difficult. His response is blunt and unrelenting:

Since the Lord has turned away from you and has become your enemy, why are you asking me? The Lord has done exactly what he said through me: The Lord has torn the kingship out of your hand and given it to your neighbor David.–1 Samuel 28:16-17

Samuel had to be thinking, “You didn’t listen to me when I was alive, so why are you asking me for advice now?”

Like the overweight woman, like my students, believers have a tendency to hear only the advice that they want to hear. They ask for help, hoping that they’ll get a word different from the one that they already know is what they need. When that unrealistic advice isn’t forthcoming, they check their social media and eat a doughnut or three.

So the bottom line here seems to be this: If you need to lose weight, don’t go for advice that you’ll just ignore. Instead, do your homework, attend class, and maybe eat one doughnut. Okay–I’m not the source for any good advice.

Working the Plan

You may not know it, but Wile E. Coyote is in the Bible. He has a different name there, but it pretty much has to be the same guy. You read the text in question and you’ll see.

Wile-E-Coyote-movieIn case you lived a deprived childhood and did not get to watch Roadrunner cartoons, then you might not know about Wile E. Coyote. Generally our man–or rather our coyote–Wile E. does not speak, although in some examples, mostly when he is chasing Bugs Bunny rather the the Roadrunner, he does speak, in a voice that might have served as the model for Jeremy Irons’ Scar in The Lion King. In those cases, he typically declares himself a “Super Genius.”

The main modus operandi for Wile E. is to employ ever more elaborate schemes to outpace the ferociously quick bird. As often as not, he purchases some marvelous item from Acme Company, who seem to specialize in mail-order of large rockets, cannons, and other improbable speed-enhancing items. While each scheme looks sure to succeed, it most often ends with Wile E. falling over the edge of a ridiculously high desert mesa, several hundred feet according to standard physics equations.

Recently, I shared some thoughts on the folly of Saul and his jealousy toward David. This begins in 1 Samuel 18. In the course of just that single chapter, Saul tries to pin David to the wall with a spear not once but twice. (Honestly, would you still be in the room after the first spear came your way?) Saul then sent David out as a military leader, probably hoping David would be killed. Instead, he simply becomes more famous and popular. Then Saul offered David a marriage to one of his daughters, only to renege on the offer.

Finally, when another daughter falls in love with David–and who wouldn’t?–Saul tries to use this to get David killed again. He asks only for a particularly grisly bride price, 100 Philistine foreskins, sure that certainly at least one of the highly motivated Philistines will get the upper hand. Instead David comes back with double the order.

Like the Super Genius Coyote, Saul keeps leaning on his own understanding. In his defense, Solomon wouldn’t pen Proverbs 3:5 for another two generations, but you have think that Saul could have figured this thing out.

What can we learn from this? It’s not that coyotes should try to eat slower prey. Instead, it’s something more about envy. Jealousy and envy are bad enough, but they’re things that most humans cannot completely escape. What we can escape is to follow up on those emotions with foolish plot after foolish plot designed to get what we want rather than to trust in the Lord with all our heart.