A couple years ago, a dear friend and I were interested in the same scholarship, a major scholarship that would send only one of us to Europe for a year. The situation unavoidably pitted us against one another. If only one of us could be a year ahead or behind, we thought, we could cheer for one another without reservation!
I recently talked with a friend who found herself in a similar situation, and it was hard to figure out what encouragement I could offer, since the zero-sum set-up begged to beget bitterness. Championship games, job applications, and family rivalries all tempt us to make enemies of those who were once friends.
This situation appears to be timeless, seeing as David and Jonathan find themselves in roughly the same circumstances in 1 Samuel 20. Jonathan is next in line to be king after his father Saul, but the prophet Samuel has anointed David for the very same role. In a Harry-Potter-esque turn of fate, it seemed that “neither could reign while the other survived.” Jonathan’s father, Saul, had no reservations about these implications; not liking David anyway, he sought to kill him so that he and Jonathan and their sons after them could stay on the throne.
Jonathan, on the other hand, despite the fact that everyone knew that David was his competition, also treasured David as his dearest friend. Not knowing what it might mean for his own life, he set up a plan to whisk David out of town, saving him from his father’s murderous anger. Saul, suspecting something is afoot, berates Jonathan for this pity, saying,
“You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.” Then Jonathan answered Saul his father, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” But Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him. So Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death.
-1 Samuel 20:30-33
The next morning, Jonathan sneaks away to warn David and help him escape the city. They had a subtle secret symbol arranged, but they both lose their cool at the prospect of parting, facing the kind of indefinite goodbye that dear friends despise:
And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most. Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’ ” And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city
-1 Samuel 20:41-42
David and Jonathan don’t by any means solve the situation. In fact, one does die before the other reigns. Yet, they refuse to kill, even to hate, even to cease loving one another. They swear to each other, “The Lord shall be between me and you,” and they entrust the deadly circumstances to the Lord’s wise plan.
In the same way, the competitive situations forced upon us may not arrive at a miraculous win-win solution. When we end up pitted against those we love, one will very likely win and the other lose, one succeed and the other fail. Yet, as long as that’s the case, why not have the Lord between us before, during, and after whatever occurs?
As it turns out, my friend got the scholarship. However, I was prepared to be less jealous than I would typically be because someone realized, early on, that we could talk honestly, pray together, and hope the best for the other, not knowing or understanding the outcome, because the Lord was between us. Our Lord is wise enough to know the best outcome, powerful enough to bring it about, and loving enough to perfectly shepherd each of us through the implications. Thus, whatever it might have looked like to the surrounding world, we didn’t need to treat one another or think of one another as enemies. Only one would get what we had each envisioned, but both would win if both were on the same side because both had the same Lord and that Lord can never be surprised or stopped.
When circumstances pit us against one another, God’s people can nonetheless say (in a way the world cannot), “Go in peace.” We know that the Lord between us will work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. No matter who “wins” in the little things, our God reigns over all, so even when it feels like “we are being killed all the day long,” we are all “more than conquerors though him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”