Unholy Grief

By Amber Noel

A Reading from 1 Samuel 18:5-16, 27b-30

5 David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him; as a result, Saul set him over the army. And all the people, even the servants of Saul, approved.

6 As they were coming home, when David returned from killing the Philistine, the women came out of all the towns of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. 7And the women sang to one another as they made merry,
“Saul has killed his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands.”
8 Saul was very angry, for this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David tens of thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands; what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9 So Saul eyed David from that day on.

10 The next day an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand; 11 and Saul threw the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice.

12 Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. 13 So Saul removed him from his presence, and made him a commander of a thousand; and David marched out and came in, leading the army. 14 David had success in all his undertakings; for the Lord was with him. 15 When Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in awe of him. 16 But all Israel and Judah loved David; for it was he who marched out and came in leading them. 27b Saul gave him his daughter Michal as a wife. 28 But when Saul realized that the Lord was with David, and that Saul’s daughter Michal loved him, 29 Saul was still more afraid of David. So Saul was David’s enemy from that time forward.

30 Then the commanders of the Philistines came out to battle; and as often as they came out, David had more success than all the servants of Saul, so that his fame became very great.


His son loves David. His God loves David. His people, his soldiers, his servants, his daughter all love David. They all prefer David. Saul is still technically lord and king, but David has their heart. In the midst of the craze for David, it must gall Saul: the obligatory deference, the continued courtesies toward himself. It looks like David, through sheer favor, is all but wearing the crown.

Has your authority ever felt hollow, or your relationship to someone soured, because you perceived you were still receiving outward courtesies, or going through the motions, while the very heart of what you valued has fled, gone somewhere else? Now image that heart had been given to someone else, in your very presence. We may begin to approach the way Saul feels.

No doubt we must grieve when a relationship has gone wrong or a hope has died. But in the humiliation, even when our own innocence is about as pure as it can be (which Saul’s wasn’t), there is often a humbling truth: I am not at the center of this, and I never was. I am not here to ensure and protect my desired outcome; I am here to be faithful.

Pride, self-absorption, and fear turn Saul’s grief into madness. But even in his unchecked folly, his hardening of heart against people and God, there is hope for Saul — if not to save his kingship, then perhaps to save himself, “as if through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15). Perhaps Saul is an extreme case. But perhaps not. God’s presence may “leave” certain hardened areas of our lives yet still reach out to us in others. Over this week, let us watch out for the hardness of unholy grief in ourselves. Let us give our griefs to God, who can soften them, remove their poison, if not also their sting. And if that is too hard, let us at least ask for the grace to do it. The asking itself is a sign of hope.

Amber Noel, M.Div., is Associate Editor at the Living Church and Associate Director of The Living Church Institute. Off the clock, she is the author of short fiction, book and culture reviews, and work for the stage.

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Today we pray for:

Holy Comforter Episcopal Church, Tallahassee, Fla.
The Diocese of Maralal (Anglican Church of Kenya)


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