"There were, after all, some good things still in Judah."
I want to avoid the "here we are again" temptation. I would be easy to revisit the theme of Israel's and Judah's disintegration, reviewing just how efficient human beings are in rendering our institutions (even those ordained by God) to an inconstant and corrupt state. In the wake of the death of Solomon, the glory of Israel is eclipsed in an almost melodramatic fashion. An opposition leader returns from exile to champion the people. A young king, foolish and inexperienced, chooses to listen to the brash advice of his peers while ignoring the wisdom of his elders. The people themselves brace against the promise of harsh treatment by one ruler, exchanging it for the apostasy of another. Israel and Judah seem, once again, to have little else going for them aside from the fact that at some point in the past some ancestor kept covenant with God. That's about it....
...and yet, there is something that remains. In the midst of the lowest point of Rehoboam's rule, when the Pharaoh Shishak is plundering the remnant of a country Rehoboam still has influence over, total destruction is avoided. Why? Because in the midst of the attacks, Rehoboam submits to the Lord. Just a little kernel of repentance, just a fragment of the former faith, just a bit remains. "There were, after all, some good things still in Judah. " (12:12b)
In our walk with God, these accounts of the kings of Israel and Judah are a sad blessing to us. We see leaders (and people), distinguish themselves not for the most part by their greatness, but rather by their stumblings and failures. For a culture that sets personal success as the premium of existence, this might seem like anathema. They are not. Instead, they are stories of how demanding a life lived in God's presence can be in the end. God promises to be with us, and asks of us our trust and fidelity. We struggle to remember and practice that faith. We fall too often from the demanding path of fidelity. And so, that locks us into a pattern of departure and return: God remains constant and we wander around in the shadows, hoping for enough direction that we can find our way back to the light.
Make no mistake: God has our backs and yearns for us as only a Creator who is constantly redeeming and sanctifying the creation can. As the psalmist reminds us...when the waters come up to our necks, it is God who is for us. It is God who is present to us, who is the one true source of consolation and life.
If we are willing to submit to that grace, then the rest will follow--even if we are only able to embrace it in fits and starts.
Paul's concluding chapters in his epistle to the Romans is, for me, the crux of our struggle to articulate a life in Christ on a day to day basis in a world that is too often at odds with the call we have in Christ to find unity in communion with God and our neighbors. This practice Paul identifies goes well beyond the Golden Rule while at the same time reducing its syntax... It is not about reciprocity (giving in order to get; or not giving in order to not get). It is about finding within ourselves basic motivation to model a way of being. It is about finding our center in God while we stand in the midst of others who might not hear the Call in the same way that we do.
What is a Christian to do?
Do Good. Pursue Justice. Pray. Seek. Hope.
There is still some good in us. I see it revealed every day...