Sunday, January 11, 2009

What I Want to Hear

A movie from several years back climaxes in a dramatic court scene in which the following exchange takes place:

"I want the truth!"

"You can't handle the truth!"

Most of us would agree that when we are engaged in conversation, regardless of when, where, with whom, and on what topic, we would generally state that we want to be told the truth.

We would also agree that we have not always told the truth to others, despite the safe assumption that they want the truth from us as much as we want it from them.

We also know that we don't always like what people tell us when they are being honest.

So, what is it we really want?

An obscure story from I Kings 22 gives an insight into human interaction, and probably an example that could have come from just about anyone's daily life.

Ahab, the evil king of Israel, is paid a visit by Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. In the course of their visit, Ahab laments the fact that the border city of Ramoth-Gilead is still under the control of Aram, the kingdom to the northeast, three years after hostilities had ended. (Can't blame him; how would the average American, let alone the President, feel if Mexico took control of El Paso, and three years had gone by without resolution?)

Ahab decides to take action, and asks Jehoshaphat for support, which he gladly gives, but with the proviso that they first consult the prophets of God to find out whether or not to go to war with Aram over Ramoth-Gilead. Ahab doesn't hesitate to bring in a troop of "prophets" who spout the hoped-for line: "Go up, for the Lord will deliver it into the hand of the king!"

This clearly would have been enough for Ahab, who wouldn't have been likely to seek God's will anyway, but it wasn't enough for Jehoshaphat, who asks if there are still any other prophets to inquire of before proceeding. There's no indication of what Jehoshaphat's reason was for asking this. Was he distrustful of what the first round of prophets said? Did their word sound too automatic to him? Was he simply seeking additional assurance? Was he prompted by God to ask this?

We don't know, but for whatever reason, Jehoshaphat opened the door for a view into Ahab's nature, and the answer to the question of what many people really want.

Ahab concedes that there is another prophet in Israel, but it's not a man he wants to see. In fact, Ahab says, "I hate him, because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah, son of Imlah."

Jehoshaphat admonishes Ahab for speaking this way about God's prophet, and Ahab sends for Micaiah. While they await Micaiah's arrival, Ahab and Jehoshaphat are treated to even more assurance from the prophets who have already spoken, including one who uses an iron horn to predict that King Ahab will gore Aram to death.

The messenger who fetches Micaiah also pressures him to repeat the message of assurance given by the previous prophets, but Micaiah tells the messenger he'll do no such thing, that he will simply say what God tells him to say.

And the stage is set for a strange, but dramatic confrontation, as Ahab asks Micaiah the question of the day.

Interestingly enough, Micaiah doesn't do what he told the messenger he would do, but instead does what the messenger asked, and just repeats the party line: "Attack and be victorious, for the Lord will give it into the king's hand." No reason is given for Micaiah's reversal. Why would Micaiah boldly tell the messenger he would have no part of lying to the king, but then turn right around and lie to the king? Did he simply get scared, and decide not to make waves? Did he decide that Ahab was a goner anyway, and conclude it wasn't worth the trouble of offending him? What did God think of what Micaiah did? We're not told.

Ahab was evil, but not all of his instincts were wrong. He senses something is amiss in Micaiah's prophecy, and he doesn't trust it. He knows Micaiah has only prophesied doom against him in the past, and he is not prepared to accept this sudden show of support from the prophet.

His ironic rebuke of Micaiah almost sounds like it comes from a parent to a child: "How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?"

How many times do I have to tell you? I want the truth!

Really, Ahab? Is that truly what you want? We'll see.

Micaiah gives in, and goes ahead and tells Ahab the truth, accurately conveying God's message of failure and death regarding Ahab's idea of attacking Aram.

And Ahab responds according to his nature, becoming angry with Micaiah, telling Jehoshaphat, "See, I told you about this guy!", and ordering Micaiah thrown into prison until Ahab's safe return from battle.

For the record, Ahab's attack on Aram results in his death, as he is killed by an enemy arrow fired at random into the crowd.

With some people, you just can't win. They want it both ways. "Tell me the truth, but make sure I like what you tell me."

Just in this short story alone, we see examples of:

*A grudge held against someone for his commitment to speak the truth.

*Pressure to lie.

*A bold commitment to speak the truth, followed by a convenient lie.

*A demand for the truth, regardless of content, followed by anger over the content of the truth.

*Disregard for the truth in favor of a lie.

Human nature hasn't changed much since Old Testament times.

So, again, what is it we really want? Do we want the truth? Can we handle the truth? Are we prepared for what the truth might mean in our lives? Do we know where to find it? Are we committed to finding it, even when it's most challenging to our own ideas?

Or, have we already decided what we want to hear?

Much more than our human lives are at stake in our answers to these questions.

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