Some in our day have taken issue with the idea of a national leader who admits before a watching world that his country has made mistakes that have contributed to international problems.
Reminds me of a story that my barber told me earlier this week. He said that while volunteering to cut hair at a veteran’s facility, he was talking with the man in his chair—when another resident became distracted by their conversation.
As I remember it, the other resident said something like, “Seems to me that they could get a barber who had enough manners to not talk when others are trying to listen to the television.
My barber said that he turned to the man and said, “Sir, I sincerely apologize. I didn’t realize I was talking so loud.”
Whereupon the other resident replied, “You’re a grown man. You don’t have to apologize.”
In both cases, admission of wrong is seen as a weakness.
The Bible tells another story.
Am thinking of what happened when the nation of Israel came to the conclusion that having a king in heaven wasn’t enough. It was time, they thought, to have a real king, like the leaders of neighbor nations, a king who could make sure that their needs were being met—while also being able to lead them in battles.
In many ways, the people had reason for their request. Their current leader, Samuel, was a spiritual man, a prophet-priest, who was getting on in years. What really bothered the people, though, was that Samuel’s sons, who seemed destined to replace their father, had a reputation as being unprincipled, self-centered men, with no fear of God.
Samuel, however, responded to their request for a king with alarm. He let the people know that he thought they were making a big mistake.
Conventional wisdom could say that Samuel took their demand for a king personally and that he responded in defense of his own judgment, office, and sons.
But if so, Samuel also stuck his neck out. To show that he wasn’t just speaking and acting in his own interests, he said he was going to ask God to send a thunderstorm at the time of harvest to help them see what a mistake they had made (this was at a season of the year when it did not normally rain).
The heavens seemed to be listening.
As the sky darkened and lightning flashed overhead, the people saw that they were in trouble. Chilled by the falling rain, they gathered cold, wet, and trembling before Samuel. With one voice they admitted that they had been wrong, and asked Samuel to appeal to God to intervene in their behalf.
I love Samuel’s response and often come back to it when wondering what to do in times of trouble. It reminds me that what I own up to–and admit to– now is more important than what I’ve done.
As an answer to his peoples admission of wrong, Samuel said,
“Don’t be afraid.”… “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the LORD with all your heart and that you don’t turn your back on him in any way…
Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you — they really are useless! The LORD will not abandon his chosen people, for that would dishonor his great name. He made you a special nation for himself. “As for me, I will certainly not sin against the LORD by ending my prayers for you. And I will continue to teach you what is good and right. But be sure to fear the LORD and sincerely worship him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you. But if you continue to sin, you and your king will be destroyed.” (1Samuel 12:20-25 NLT)
The best leaders… like the most mature people… know that if we have done wrong, the strongest action is to own it. The weakest action is to ignore or deny it.
Revisiting that event in the life of Israel has often helped me– even when I don’t see a clear relationship between my wrongs and the trouble in which I find myself.
What matters is whether we let our fear drive us to the Lord– rather than away from him… whether we have wrongs to own up to… or not.