Keep your head

A newspaper or news bulletin headline usually has to be either pretty shocking or report something very unusual to attract my attention. I suppose the same goes for many of us. We are sated with news stories from around the world and it sometimes feels as though we just can’t process everything we see and hear and some stories, though worthy of response at an emotional level, fail to penetrate the hardened shell that has built up around hearts and minds.

However, the resignation of General David Petraeus as Director of the CIA was one that I found very sad.

Petraeus is one of the most outstanding soldiers of his generation. He is widely accredited with developing new and effective methods for fighting terrorist insurgency, field tested in both Iraq and Afghanistan. His thirty-seven year military career is described as glittering. His success in the theatre of battle seemed to be matched by a happy marriage and family life. At one point he was even tipped as a future president of the United States. Sadly, it all fell apart. He admitted to an “extra-marital affair” and an “error of judgment” on his part.

Of course, there are people all over the world who are in far greater need and suffering far more severely than the disgraced general. Nevertheless, there is something very sad – and perhaps sobering – when a reputation built up over a generation is completely undermined by a bad or a series of bad decisions. Just as a building that took months or even years to build can be demolished with the right explosives in seconds, so a reputation established over many years can be gone through a rash decision.

King Joash was one of the better kings of Judah. He had been rescued by his aunt from the murderous intent of his wicked grandmother Athaliah. He had been mentored by the High Priest Jehoiada, and in the early years of his reign he had set about repairing the Lord’s temple. The restoration project ran on for over twenty-three years. During that time Joash changed the way that finance was administered to ensure the success of the project. He was a faithful king who had the right priorities.

Then, one day, Hazael, the king of Aram, attacked Jerusalem. 2 Kings 12.17-18 records:

17 About this time Hazael king of Aram went up and attacked Gath and captured it. Then he turned to attack Jerusalem. 18 But Joash king of Judah took all the sacred objects dedicated by his fathers—Jehoshaphat, Jehoram and Ahaziah, the kings of Judah—and the gifts he himself had dedicated and all the gold found in the treasuries of the temple of the LORD and of the royal palace, and he sent them to Hazael king of Aram, who then withdrew from Jerusalem.

You could argue that he did the right thing. He spared Judah war with Aram. He saved Jerusalem from siege. But I can’t help feeling there was a failure of faith here. No record of seeking the Lord. No prophet requested to find out what God is saying. Instead he takes three generations of wealth plus all that he had accumulated for the Lord and the nation himself and pays off the king of Aram. One decision and the amassed wealth of four generations is gone. Without a sword being lifted. It looks like Joash, great king and all as he was, simply lost his nerve.

Sometimes our biggest challenge is to hold our nerve. To keep our heads. Kipling’s poem If is often quoted in this context. You can look that one up for yourself. Let me leave you with the words of the apostle Paul:

But you, keep your head in all situations (2 Timothy 4.5).

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