Getting Advice from the Dead

I know a woman who wants to avoid going to the doctor until after she loses weight. “I know what he’s going to tell me,” she protests. “He’ll say you need to lose weight.” Does she then act on this knowledge and begin to control her weight? Of course not. Instead, she grabs a doughnut or three.

Occasionally I give advice to my students, and it’s almost always super profound advice. “Get your work in. Come to class. Read the instructions.” These are not new things. They don’t need somebody with a doctorate to bring this piece of wisdom from Mt. Olympus. They’ve heard the advice before, probably even knowing that it’s right. Do they then act on that knowledge and begin to start owning their education? Of course not. Instead, they catch up on the urgent developments on Instagram.

When Saul, facing yet another attack from the Philistines, doesn’t know where to turn, he goes where you or I would go: to a dead person. He enlists a medium to conjure up Samuel to get advice, because, you know, when God stops talking to you, the best way to get Him to start talking to you again is to do something that’s He’s expressly forbidden.

Samuel appears to the medium, which apparently freaks her out a little. It’s not completely clear whether Saul could see Samuel or not, but the Bible does indicate that directly or indirectly Saul was at least conversing with the man. Before we dismiss Samuel as needlessly cranky in the exchange, we should walk a mile in his shoes. This would require being dead, so that will be difficult. His response is blunt and unrelenting:

Since the Lord has turned away from you and has become your enemy, why are you asking me? The Lord has done exactly what he said through me: The Lord has torn the kingship out of your hand and given it to your neighbor David.–1 Samuel 28:16-17

Samuel had to be thinking, “You didn’t listen to me when I was alive, so why are you asking me for advice now?”

Like the overweight woman, like my students, believers have a tendency to hear only the advice that they want to hear. They ask for help, hoping that they’ll get a word different from the one that they already know is what they need. When that unrealistic advice isn’t forthcoming, they check their social media and eat a doughnut or three.

So the bottom line here seems to be this: If you need to lose weight, don’t go for advice that you’ll just ignore. Instead, do your homework, attend class, and maybe eat one doughnut. Okay–I’m not the source for any good advice.

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