Love is a Fragile Trust

Yesterday our daughter Katie married Stephen Anderson at St John’s Church, Guildford. She was about 3 years old when we moved there 26 years ago, so it was like going home. It was a lovely occasion. Thank you for your prayers.

When you know someone, their photos are three dimensional. When you don’t know them, photos are simply two dimensional. The Bible can be a little like that. We tend to read history like this story of David and Michal in the flat – two dimensional. It’s easy to forget that these were real people just like you and I, with real emotions, real hopes and aspirations for their marriage. As I was thinking about their relationship the thought occurred to me – what if – what if for just 20 minutes we could become contemporaries with King David and Princess Michal, what would it be like? What if we could meet? What if they asked us for advice on their marriage, what would you say? What would they say about our rather casual approach to marriage and divorce? What questions would you ask them? What questions might they ask us? What advice would you give them? What difference could it have made to their marriage and future? If David had not run away from his father in law, would Michal have been forced to remarry? If Michal had fled with David would David have taken other wives? Would they have spent seven years apart? Would Michal have remained childless?

Would David have been tempted by Bathsheba? Would he have plotted to murder her husband Uriah? Would their reunion have been such an unhappy occasion?

We don’t know. We do know God’s word is here to instruct us. We have God’s word on relationships. We can therefore learn from every encounter, from every relationship and judge it by the makers instructions. We do know that like David and Michal we have choices that affect our futures. Although we may not be able to change our circumstances, any more than they could, we can change how we respond to our circumstances.

So lets imagine for a short while having a one to one with David and Michal. Lets imagine they are here tonight, with their best years ahead of them, as a young couple experiencing the seven year itch. What would you recommend we do first?

1. Clarify the Presentwhat do they wish to achieve?
The love story of David and Michal unfolds a lot like a Shakespearean tragedy. A scheming king, her love-struck daughter and the handsome object of her affection, all travel toward an inevitable, painful collision. While David’s ascent to the throne is at the centre of this drama, the love story belongs to Michal. How amazing that, in the midst of its record of kings and wars, the Bible slows down to tell us in piercing detail about a young princess whose marriage seemed doomed before it began. Her story begins, “Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David…”. It ends later with the sad words, “She despised him in her heart.” Lets explore what happened in between. David the boy hero has recently spent seven years in exile. Remaining loyal to his King and father-in-law Saul, David has been a fugitive, hunted down by the State, separated from his wife. On the death of Saul and his closest friend and brother in law, Jonathan, David is declared King of Israel. He has seen his wife Michal given to another man, and while in exile David has taken six other wives and has had many children. Michal was a princess, the daughter of King Saul. She has gone from being at the centre of Jewish culture.

From the dream princess of every little Jewish girl to being ostracised and marginalised as her father became unpopular and replaced. David the new king & Michal his first wife meet again. They are reunited but so much has happened in the last seven years, can their marriage survive? Its good to clarify the present objectively and ask what they want to achieve? Lets assume they don’t want to give up. Lets assume, they want to learn how to improve their marriage. They are keen to learn from their past and from your experience. Lets imagine like us, they want to work at their marriage. They don’t want to give up. What should we explore next with them?

2. Affirm the good in their relationship
What can we say to encourage them about their relationship?

2.1 David’s bravery and faithfulness
Of David we can affirm his loyalty to Michal’s family. He refused to harm Michal’s father and forms a close friendship with her brother Jonathan. (1 Samuel 20:15-17). He calls Saul ‘my father’ (1 Samuel 24:11). He shows bravery to win her as his bride (1 Samuel 16). On hearing of Saul and Jonathan’s death David weeps and laments in great sorrow. (2 Samuel 1:17-27). When he is able to return to Jerusalem, David wants to bless his family and see Michal again (2 Samuel 3:13; 6:19-20). David was a person of faith – he feared God more than his own safety – he refused to kill his enemy. He trusted in God and gave thanks to God for his deliverance. He worshipped God openly and unashamedly (2 Samuel 6:21). David’s bravery and faithfulness. What can we say to Michal?

2.2 Michal’s love and protection
Twice we are told Michal loved before and after she marries David (1 Samuel 18:20, 28). Michal is torn between the rivalry between her father and her husband. Forced to choose, when her husbands life was threatened by her father she chooses to protect David and defy her father. As great personal risk she warns David, helps him to escape and covers up for him (1 Samuel 19:11-18). Despite the stress of a very public, high profile marriage and tension within their extended family, there is much evidence of love and affection in their early married life. We can affirm much that is good about their relationship. Affirm what they did right. What should we do next? Examine where they went wrong.

3. Acknowledge what they could have done differently
Instead of apportioning blame, lets use the benefit of hindsight and invite David and Michal to consider what they could have done differently. To begin with there is the recognition that neither had any influence over Saul’s mental illness, his jealousy or bitterness. What would we ask of David to help him appraise his own actions? You knowingly married into a very special family. You knew of Saul’s personality and his power. Although David was reluctant to accept Saul’s invitation to become a son in law, there were benefits such as David’s relationship with Jonathan.

But there was also Saul’s absolute power to manipulate and murder. Did David take his new status for granted? Did David become a little like his father in law when he abused his position to cover up his adultery with Bathsheba and conspire to have Uriah’s murdered.

He was not the first or last to abuse his political power to satisfy his lusts. I would also want to ask David about those seven years in exile. How hard did he try and contact Michal. Did he miss her? Did he try and see her? Write her letters? Find ways to show he still loved her? Why did he take not just one but six other wives? Did he use Saul’s actions as an excuse? Saul had given Michal to another man. Did that justify David’s polygamy? Deuternomony 17:17 specifically warned against a king taking additional wives. God’s pattern for marriage in Genesis was very clear. If David was a man of faith why did he not fear God and obey his word? And when they finally met again as he entered Jerusalem, was David as patient and gracious and understanding of what his wife had gone through before he rebuked her and justified his actions? Was he as sensitive and understanding of her needs as he could have been?

And what of Michal? What would we wish to ask her? We would empathise with her situation. Having helped the man she loved escape, having chosen to protect him against the wishes of her father, having had no choice but found herself given to another man, how long had it been before she gave up hope of seeing her first love again? At what point in those seven years, as she heard of David’s latest wife or child had she begun to give up hope. During that creeping separation, when did she begin to regret marrying him?

When did she begin to despise him? When David arrived in Jerusalem, dancing nearly naked it was just too much for Michal. She saw the way the slave girls looked at David and she was jealous. Was it a right jealousy of a wife protective of their relationship? Was her outburst, possibly in public the pent up emotions of seven long years of separation? Did she regret telling him how she felt? I would want to ask them both together, did they blame each other or did they accept responsibility for what happened? Having invited them to affirm the positive in their relationship, affirming the love their partner had shown, having explored where they could have done things differently, we would want to invite them now to think about their future. Was their marriage over? Could they start again?

4. What would enhance and deepen their relationship?
What would you suggest they work on? Here are five simple observations that take a life time to work through.

4.1 Nurture a Forgiving Spirit
Beginning again in any relationship begins with forgiveness. Forgiveness is not deciding to become a doormat. Its not magical or instant. It would take time for David and Michal to build trust again, but they could start. What ever it was that led to Michal’s bitterness and resentment needed admitting, sharing, forgiving and cleansing.

Maybe you needs to ask forgiveness of your partner. Maybe you need to assure your partner that they are forgiven. If so, do it tonight.

4.2 Develop a Forgetful Memory
Forgiveness feels pain but it does not hoard it. It allows tomorrow to break free of yesterday. Don’t dwell on the past. If its forgiven it needs to be forgotten. Don’t dredge up history. Develop a forgetful memory. Choose to forget. Superimpose new positive images on old painful memories.

4.3 Accept what you cannot Change
Change is a good thing. We all want our partners to change in some way. But the trouble comes when we want our partner to become someone they cannot be. Michal could never have back the man she married. He had children by other women, he was now the King. And Michal had changed also. All love relationships can endure and thrive in spite of scheming in laws, long separations and the death of loved ones if we learn to love our partners they way they are. Husbands and wives can learn that the real enemy of a marriage doesn’t lie outside of us, but within our own choices and attitudes. Accept what you cannot change and work on the rest.

4.4 Learn to Communicate with Empathy
Discover how your partner wishes you to communicate. Don’t assume they know. They will need telling, often. Its not so much the words we use but the tone of our voice that reveals our intention. Michal’s words to David were biting and sarcastic. His reply hints at self justification. Neither were seeking to build up their partner. To communicate effectively you need to create space and time. Guard your time together. Listen with your eyes. Take walks together. Parsons says, “Lose some arguments, husbands give your partner flowers when its not their birthday or your anniversary. Have a television free evening.” Agatha Christie once said, “An archaeologist is the best husband any woman can have. The older she gets the more interested he is in her.”

4.5 Choose to Love Unconditionally
Our NT reading reminds us that God is the source of love and that it is his love for us that inspires us to love others in the same way. David and Michal could only wonder at God’s purposes revealed imperfectly in the Old Testament. God would indeed inspire David to write about the coming Saviour. Psalm 2 and Psalm 22 are good examples. Imagine David and Michal coming to realise that God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to be our Saviour.

Imagine them coming to grasp God’s unconditional love, his revolutionary forgiveness. Imagine the possibility that Michal has forgiven her tortured, abusive father. She sees how, partly through her own extreme sacrifice, God has protected and exalted her husband David – and through him, her entire nation. And when she looked down at her king dancing in the streets, she remembers not their separation and her humiliation but sees the young man who first brought her music and laughter in a lonely palace long ago. Yes, love is a fragile trust. But with God’s help, we can guard our hearts against bitterness and harness and reach instead for faith, courage and forgiveness. This kind of love will not fail. Because this kind of love is eternal. Because this kind of love is supernatural. Because God wants to have a one to one with you and your partner and transform you both by his love.
Lets pray for our own marriages, or if we are singly, for those we care about.

Dear Father, let my marriage begin again, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part. Let all of the old hurts and sorrows be put into your hands, so that from this moment, our marriage can be cleansed, renewed and strong. Father, we ask that you would give us forgiving spirit, a forgetful memory, to accept what we cannot change, to learn to communicate effectively and to choose to love unconditionally so that we might become the kind of husband and wife that you have called us to be. In Jesus name. Amen.

With grateful thanks to Rob Parson’s ’60 minute marriage’ and David & Heather Kopp’s book, ‘Love Stories told by God’