David by John Hercus and All Is Grace by Brennan Manning
I have read two books – partly because I have little else to take my attention at the moment and partly because they are really good. They are about human beings. All Is Grace is a memoir by Brennan Manning. Born in New York, he was an Irish Catholic by lineage rather than faith. As a young man he wrestled with a drink problem, although he functioned well enough to hold down a job and then attend college before dropping out to join the Marine Corps. He was a prodigous drinker. Most nights he would drink “a dozen or so beers, a pint of rye whiskey every other day and often a litre of sake a week”. His friends called him Funnel.
When he meets God, it hits him like a train and I’m not sure I have ever read such an unapologetic, deep rooted description of a man enthalled by the Grace of God. He joins a monastic community, becomes a Catholic priest, gets married (therefore no longer a Catholic priest) gets divorced. And all the time, his life was marked by persistant lapses into alchololism.
Yet, his connection with God is both comforting and inspiring. Constantly in demand to speak at Christian events, he calls people to pass on the grace that they have been shown and this call reaches a wide audience in his best-selling book “The Ragamuffin Gospel”
All Is Grace is studded through with truth about the way God sees us that I sometimes choose to ignore. I found Manning infuriating sometimes, as time after time it all went wrong but he was wise enough not to be broken by any disappointment in himself because he accepted his flawed humanity. He writes “God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.”
David by John Hercus is a very different type of book but it reinforces the same message. Written in 1967, the writing style is a bit Enid Blyton. (This is obviously not a bad thing). But his analysis of David the man is spot on I think.
King David has always done my head in a bit. All that “man after God’s own heart” yet sometimes I find him a nightmare. Always ducking and diving, some of his behaviour as a military leader might have been acceptable at the time but, for me, left a nasty taste and all this is before we get to the old “sleep with your friend’s wife and, on discovering she is pregnant, try to make her husband sleep with her to deal with the possible “whose baby?” awkwardness and, when that doesn’t work, put her husband in the heat of battle so he certainly gets killed.” ploy. (I think we’ve all been there)
Yet, I think I am at fault here (always a first time I suppose) I think when I read about David, I think of him as a kind of cardboard cut-out. King of Israel, Great Warrior, Gods Own Heart etc etc whereas, he was a human. As human as me or you or Brennan Manning. John Hercus writes about David’s childhood which was messy and loveless. (Have you ever wondered about how a young boy felt whose family had no use for him so spent his whole life alone watching over sheep) He was completely ignored when Jesse was asked to bring his sons to meet the prophet. Hercus writes admiringly about David’s loyalty in staying on the run so that he would not find himself in a situation where he had to kill King Saul. But he also writes about his ruthlessness – both in battle and as a King. He looks at some of the Psalms that David wrote and points out the lack of self knowledge in them sometimes. The passage where Nathan confronts him with what he has done with Uriah and Bathsheba is particularly good. It’s written like a thriller – where everyone knows what David did, just who will have the guts to say so.
These are very different books – different eras – different approaches but blimey – the men involved. And they are men, permanently flawed, sometimes completely useless, sometimes amazing but what they had in common was they realised their worth before God and lived their lives following on from that understanding.
I’m no expert – on anything really – but I wonder if more of us (by more of us – I mean me) were able to live in front of God in this way – open, honest, passionate and unwilling to allow our flaws to stop us being loved completely by God, how much clearer would our vision be and how much more would we be able to achieve.