The Wheel of Justice
Listen to “The Wheel of Justice” by Fred Smith
I’ve hummed along with Billy Joel’s song “Only The Good Die Young” for years. It’s an infectious tune and the lyrics soon fade into the background – unless you have girls and then every “Billy” you see becomes a threat!
“They say there’s a heaven for those who will wait.
Some say it’s better but I say it ain’t.
I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.
The sinners are much more fun.”
Another reason to look at the lyrics is teaching from stories in the Old Testament about men in power who would not wait. We all know about David and Bathsheba. Despite the legal consequence for adultery for her – death – he had Bathsheba brought to him knowing he was now above the law. She might pay for his indiscretion with her life but he would be protected. After all, he was a man after God’s own heart. He had become accustomed to privilege and along with it the flattering and fawning. Loyalty was everything to David. He earned and returned it when he was young. But, power trumps loyalty and affords the opportunity to surround yourself with people who do what you say and make a living by keeping your secrets. It means having fixers, like Joab, who make unpleasant problems go away – until the fixer turns on you. It means taking what you want because you can – without considering the devastation for innocent others. Lives are shattered. Reputations destroyed. Friends betrayed. People who are inconvenient or in the way are abandoned and sacrificed. David only sees character as an obstacle to overcome. Honor has become the enemy. Truth needs to be silenced.
I’m not convinced David’s flaw is as much lust as the abuse of power. Recall what he says to Saul’s daughter Michal when she criticizes him. “You may think I am nothing but it was me rather than your father or anyone from his house when the Lord appointed me ruler over the His people.” In other words, I am somebody. I am important – someone to be reckoned with.
Have you heard the phrase “Catch and Kill”? It is when a publisher wants to cover up a scandal. They buy the story and then bury it. Sleazy tabloids do this regularly – especially when protecting friends in high places. That’s exactly what David tried to do. He ended up murdering an innocent man but not killing the story. Too many people knew. Servants and staff likely knew everything going on with Uriah’s wife and David but no one says anything to Uriah. They are covering for the King. They are all implicated either out of misplaced loyalty, cowardice or wanting to protect their own positions and careers. Other than Uriah, everyone in the story is reduced by their part in it. Everyone is compromised and dirtied. As the saying goes, “If you lay down with dogs you will get up with fleas.”
But then, at the end of the story, a new actor walks on. It is one who has been waiting silently offstage watching until now. “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.” Yes, it displeases me as well. It makes me angry and ready to see justice done. It makes me want to punish David and have him disgraced and dethroned. One of my favorite phrases is, “The wheel of justice turns slowly but grinds exceedingly fine.” It’s grinding time.
But, displeased does not mean anger flaring for God. Instead, it means full of grief. It is the same grief the Lord experienced when he saw “how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth and his heart was filled with pain.”
God grieves and is hurt by all of it. While David has no immediate remorse, God is full of it. He is shaken and weeps. In the midst of all the separation, collusion, treachery, murder, lust, decay and betrayal God grieves. He is not distant or detached. He does not shout or call down lightning but, instead, He weeps. Not only for what David has done but for the loss of what would have been his future. There is a line from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest that sums it up for me. “There is not only disgrace and dishonor in that… but an infinite loss.” And for that God weeps. The loss of a man once after his own heart. The loss of true greatness.
T.S. Eliot wrote, “This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not in a bang but a whimper.” And as it is true for worlds so is it for men who become consumed with pride, arrogance, power, grievances, and lust. They end not in a bang but a whimper.