When I was quite young, God nurtured His love for me through songs and pensive moments as I sat perched in mango trees, the Floridian sun freckling my cheeks. As my parents taught me to worship and read Scripture, I fell in love with the story of David. He was kindred to me in some way. He was my Biblical superhero. He was strong and rugged, and yet his heart always tender. While young and overlooked by others, he was always watched and known deeply by God, especially that golden heart from where both songs of praise and lament would arise.
Although David’s life, as a warrior and king of the nation of Israel, was obviously lived out on a much larger stage than most any of us will experience, I too, feel as if I’ve lived much of my life on a stage. Even as a young boy, I felt drawn to take the essence of those private and personal moments between me and God, and display it for His glory. Thus, I found myself on many stages, with many eyes and ears attentive to me.
As well, within the public life of the Church and ministry, I’ve occasionally found myself facing down giants with hardly a weapon worth wielding. (Like David, I could find no “GiantSlayer 2000s” in the local Christian Bookstore!) I’ve even found myself running from the Saul’s of my life, dodging javelins hurled out of the insecurity of leaders who sometimes found my success a threat. With all of these similarities, I’ve recently encountered one of the deepest similarities to David that I’ve ever experienced.
Like David, I need my “Jonathan.”
As is the case with most superheroes, what makes them super is their ability to handle all but the most epic of battles alone. It was through this iconic lens that I often viewed David. I believe this was, in part, due to the relatively overlooked and under-preached passages in Scripture of Jonathan and David’s love for each other. To be frank, the richness of their love for one another has always seemed to make Christians a little uncomfortable. From the pew as a young boy, I could feel the collective squirm as 1 Samuel 20 was read aloud long enough to reach the part where David and Jonathan form a covenant and kiss each other as they part ways, for all they knew indefinitely.
But for me, it wasn’t their affection that made me uncomfortable. Two guys loving each other deeply and even expressing that affection was normal for my family. That was me, my dad and my brothers. No, what shook my core was the sense that David needed anyone. He’s young, brave and strong. He’s killed lions and bears and a giant that no one would even face. David shouldn’t need Jonathan!
But he did.
In fact, I believe what often carried David through moments of dark solitude and turmoil, quietly evading hands of death while God prepped him for kingship, was the knowledge that someone, somewhere out there, was a friend who would always have his back. And God used Jonathan, not simply as a friend, but as a well of God’s love from which David could drink when thirsty.
“Now when he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” 1 Samuel 18:1
This is where it becomes most revealing of my brokenness to you. Because as much as I admit to truly needing and wanting my “Jonathan,” I’ve always resisted that relationship. Always.
In some sense, it would be easier for me to walk onto a battlefield without a stitch of armor, declaring victory over a giant than it would be to stand completely and utterly vulnerable enough to another human so as to be knit soul-to-soul. Don’t you have this same sense?
Put me in a field before the entire host of an army, slinging mere rocks! Put me on the stage with a guitar and a mic, slinging lyrics for a kingdom! But please don’t ever ask me to remove my armor, expose my scars and reveal my character flaws to someone – especially not Jonathan! The transparency required for the knitting of two souls is just too naked, too real and too vulnerable. What if Jonathan were to change his mind along the way? “Sorry, David, but you’re not anything like the heroic songs they sing about you. You’re, in fact, pretty human.”
And this is the irony of it all for my life. That while I’ve always wanted to be fully known and fully loved, it’s been safer to have been vaguely known and vaguely loved.
But at last, I’m tired. I wear armor more often than not, and I’m tired of it. Aren’t you? I want to be fully alive, as the quote from 2nd century church father Irenaeus says: “the glory of God is a human fully alive.” With all the ways I’ve already been hurt, there are still yet deeper losses to experience, but I’m coming to realize that I limit the Holy Spirit’s capacity to work through me whenever I’m unwilling to take that risk.
So here I am.