by Matthew W. Bassford
When we read the Bible, we learn about some people we simply have to feel sorry for. Hosea has to marry a prostitute. Jeremiah has to faithfully proclaim God’s message to a wicked nation that doesn’t want to hear it and will kill him for saying it. And so on.
On the list, though, we must include Saul’s son Jonathan. From beginning to end of his life, he seems like a high-character guy. The major sins that mar the reigns of Saul and even David are absent from his life.
However, he’s got one serious problem, and it’s his father. The story of Saul’s reign is his descent into bloody-minded paranoia, and Jonathan is one of those who suffers the most from it. In I Samuel 19:2, Jonathan has to betray his father’s confidence to save an innocent man’s life. In I Samuel 20:2, Saul hides further murderous intent from him so that he looks like a fool in front of David. In I Samuel 20:30-31, he is publicly humiliated for protecting David because he is guiltless. In I Samuel 31:2, he dies because of Saul’s sin.
To anyone who has had to put up with a family member, friend, or brother in Christ whose heart has been corrupted, this pattern of suffering will seem all too familiar. If we are in a position where we have to take our cues from an evil person, they will often twist us up like Saul twisted Jonathan up.
People like this will deceive us so that what we believe doesn’t line up with reality. They will antagonize somebody who is guiltless and demand that we take their side as proof of our loyalty to them. They will have no scruples about belittling us in front of others. They will betray our trust to do what they want to do, regardless of the effect on us.
The problems with this kind of behavior are obvious from a distance or in retrospect. However, when we’re in the middle of the situation, we often won’t see what is happening. Our love for somebody who is proving unworthy of it will blind us to the evil that they are doing. Rather than being disgusted by their wickedness, we’ll be confused by it. We will often begin to believe (indeed, they will often work to make us believe) that the problems lie with us and not them.
Loyalty is a wonderful virtue, but wisdom is too. We have to be willing to see the truth about those around us, even when that truth isn’t something that we want to believe. Otherwise, the more twisted up we become, the more we will lose touch with reality and who we are. We may well be led into sin ourselves. Psalms 15:2 emphasizes the importance of speaking truth in our hearts, and we must have the strength to do this even when the truth does not flatter someone whom we love.