It seems I’ve spent the past few winter months snipe hunting. No, I haven’t fallen for that practical joke where I find myself carrying a bag and a stick into the woods making funny noises to attract a snipe. But I have been spending my spare time and much of my mental energy trying to answer questions such as: What IS “the thing about Pam”? What was Elizabeth Holmes’s (“The Dropout”) true motivation in running Theranos? Was Dr. Christopher Duntsch (“Dr. Death”) incompetent, evil, or a drug addict? How was Anna Delvey (“Inventing Anna”) able to fool so many people for so long? My obsession with some of these true crime stories made popular by podcasts, documentaries, and miniseries has been about as productive as a snipe hunt.
My interest in all these started innocently enough. Always looking for a good podcast to fill the void while taking a road trip or plowing snow, stumbling upon these gems felt like I hit the motherload. The stories were true. The reporting seemed fair and balanced. And the storytellers themselves made each episode so compelling I couldn’t wait for the next one to start. But it didn’t take long before I became obsessed. When I finished a podcast about a particular case I would search the internet for anything I could read or watch on the subject. That almost always led to a documentary or two. And then, if I was really lucky, there would be a made-for-tv miniseries to recap everything I had heard, read, and watched. Coming to the end of one case just led me to seek out another and the pattern would start all over again.
The attraction of these types of stories comes from that little four-letter word defining the genre, TRUE crime. Truth is compelling. Seeking it out turns to obsession when it’s dangled in front of you with the promise of revelation in the next episode, or maybe the next one after that, or certainly by the finale. Blinded by the drive, it wasn’t until I reached the end of the pursuit that I realized the truth wasn’t there. At least not the truth I was really looking for.
Let me be clear, I believe that the stories I binged these past three months were told truthfully albeit sensationally. I have no doubt that those who compiled the information, carefully sought out the facts and presented them fairly, accurately, and ethically. The problem was not in the storytelling. The truth I was really seeking couldn’t be told. No one could answer the questions I was asking. Why did these evil things happen? Where was the justice? Why did it take so long to bring these people to justice? That was the truth I was seeking. I wanted to know what was behind the story that was being told. What would motivate someone to do what these people have been accused or convicted of doing? The best journalists, television producers, actors, or directors can’t give me that truth. Even an interview with the perpetrators themselves may not provide a satisfactory answer to that question. Only God knows what was truly happening in the hearts and lives of these people. I was on a snipe hunt. I was chasing something that, although existed, (yes, snipes do actually exist) was not going to be found the way I was pursuing it.
Seeing how far people will go to catch a snipe is what makes that practical joke funny. Luring them with the promise of a snipe at the end of the hunt and creating more and more ridiculous hoops for them to jump through to get that prize makes the joke all the more successful. I fell for it. I believed I would capture the truth behind each of these true crime stories if I just watched every episode of the mini-series or listened to the entire podcast. And yet, each time I came up empty-handed, unsatisfied, and still searching for that elusive truth.
In 1 Samuel we read about Saul becoming Israel’s first King. After only a few years, King Saul disobeyed God’s instruction given to him by Samuel and God removed His blessing from Saul. The Word says that God regretted ever making Saul king and He instructed Samuel to anoint young David as King of Israel. David would be Saul’s successor. We then read that Saul, no longer under the cover of God’s Spirit, was tormented by an evil spirit that caused fits of jealousy, envy, fear, and paranoia. David, still a young boy, was hired to calm King Saul by playing his harp.
Later we read the famous story of David fighting the Philistine giant, Goliath David’s victory brings him much notoriety and David becomes a part of Saul’s army. Here’s what the Word says:
“Whatever Saul asked David to do, David did it successfully. So Saul made him a commander over the men of war, an appointment that was welcomed by the people and Saul’s officers alike. When the victorious Israelite army was returning home after David had killed the Philistine, women from all the towns of Israel came out to meet King Saul. They sang and danced for joy with tambourines and cymbals. This was their song: ‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands!’ This made Saul very angry. ‘What’s this?’ he said. ‘They credit David with ten thousands and me with only thousands. Next they’ll be making him their king!’ So from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David. The very next day a tormenting spirit from God overwhelmed Saul, and he began to rave in his house like a madman. David was playing the harp, as he did each day. But Saul had a spear in his hand, and he suddenly hurled it at David, intending to pin him to the wall. But David escaped him twice. Saul was then afraid of David, for the LORD was with David and had turned away from Saul.” 1 Samuel 18:5-12 (NLT)
Eventually, Saul’s jealousy and growing rage against David causes David to flee, but that didn’t quench Saul’s desire to kill him. He pursued David convincing himself that David was lying in wait for him. A game of cat and mouse ensued and David was able to elude Saul every time. On two occasions David had the opportunity to kill Saul. He was within arms reach of him and Saul was completely unaware of how close his “enemy” was. Even though his men urged him to go through with it, David refused. Here is what he said:
“He said to his men, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.’ With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul.” 1 Samuel 24:6-7a (NIV)
David had no intention of killing Saul. He saw Saul as his king, the Lord’s anointed. Even though David had also been anointed as king, he wasn’t about to usurp Saul’s throne before God’s appointed time. The truth was, David was not Saul’s enemy. Saul was on a snipe hunt.
Israel had real enemies, enemies actually wanting to destroy them, wipe them out. That was Saul’s calling, to be obedient to God in protecting and leading the nation of Israel. But Saul became obsessed with David. His jealousy and envy of David’s military strength sent him down a path that led him further and further away from the truth. It may have started innocently enough, hearing the crowds cheering for David’s military successes. It was true that David was growing in popularity and had even been anointed as king. But Saul fell for that lure of the evil spirit. He continued down that path jumping through some ridiculous hoops in pursuit of what he thought would bring him peace and security. Even after David spared Saul’s life the first time and declared his loyalty to Saul as God’s anointed king, Saul still pursued him with murderous intent. Saul’s problem was never David. What he was really seeking could only be found in his relationship with God. It was his disobedience against God that caused God’s Spirit to be removed from him. The peace and security he desired could only come from God not from killing David. The further he went in pursuit of that snipe, the further he was from not only his God-given purpose as King of Israel but from the only One who could give him what he was really searching for, peace.
We, as believers, need to beware of snipe hunts. Satan uses more than podcasts, documentaries, and made-for-tv mini-series to keep us distracted from our purpose. He is far more sinister than to stop with entertainment-based time-wasters. He knows what pushes the buttons of a believer. He knows what riles them, what trips their anger, jealousy, and envy; what threatens their security and their pride, and what shakes their foundations. He knows how to craft something that appears to be truth and dangle it in front of us, luring us down a path until we’re so far from the truth we’re not sure how we even got there. And he uses all sorts of people, organizations, leaders, movements, and causes to steal our attention away from God’s purpose for our life.
At this time in history, there are an endless number of issues that push our buttons, trigger our anger, and threaten our Biblical worldview. That defines the age in which God has ordained us to be alive. Many of those threats are real and we need to be aware of them. We need to be aware of our enemy and his tactics. But, if we are spending our time and mental energy engaged in whatever controversy has struck that chord in us, trying to get to the bottom of it, examining the group behind it, and trying to uncover their true motivation, we may be on a snipe hunt. What better way to distract a Christian from their purpose than to get them riled up over an issue that threatens what they believe? It looks like we’re pursuing the truth, being a good Christian by going after something that may harm the values of our “kingdom.” But what are we really pursuing? Do we think, as I did, that if we just keep looking at the issue we’ll eventually understand why this evil thing happened? Or, like Saul, have we identified this issue as our enemy and we are chasing after it in order to bring us peace when that peace can only come from God Himself?
Obsessive thinking grows out of a heart that has lost faith and trust in others. We’re seeing much of what we put our trust and security in over the years crumble before our very eyes: law and order, justice, leaders with integrity, trustworthy media, a Christian worldview majority, sound Biblical teachings in the church, etc. Our resulting obsessions, whether it’s true crime or the latest political hot topic, say more about where we’ve allowed our faith and trust to be placed than anything else. The Judeo-Christian culture we have been blessed with over our lifetime has been a gift, but it is not our Savior and it is not worthy to be our god.
Our God is sovereign. He is in control despite the chaos we may see in the culture around us. That is what makes us, as believers, different from those who only know the ways of the world. Nothing happens in this world that is outside of God’s control. He hasn’t lost His grip. He isn’t asking us to figure out the origin of evil or why evil things happen. He knows their origin… personally. What He is asking us to do is to trust in Him and Him alone. We are to be a light in the midst of this darkness. That’s why He placed us here at this time in history. He’s asking us to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in His name, and teaching them His ways. He’s asking us to love Him, live by His moral code, and love others. And He’s given each one of us a unique and special way to accomplish what He is asking us to do. That unique purpose given to each believer is to be carried out alongside fellow believers, serving a function within the Body of Christ. For some, it may be to chase after and fight against a threat coming from today’s culture. But we must be certain, that whatever is taking our time and energy is a calling that is from God alone, empowered by His Holy Spirit, not from the influence of others, not in response to an emotional reaction to the world’s current state of affairs. If our daily life consists of bewildering, frustrating, angry, and hopeless thoughts we may need to step back and see if we’ve been lured into a snipe hunt. And if we have, we need to return to our only source of peace, God Himself.
The darker and colder this world gets, the more there is a need for us to share the light, love, and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we are pursuing snipe, we will be left empty-handed, unsatisfied, and driven to keep searching for something that we were never intended to capture. We will be empty, unable to give the world what it needs most and what we have been put here to deliver. God’s purpose for your life is deep, meaningful, fulfilling, and designed uniquely for you. It will never be a waste of time, leave you empty, or drive you away from God. It will instead infuse you with the light, love, and passion of His Holy Spirit because it is His Spirit that will empower you to complete it.
Heavenly Father, forgive me for the many snipe hunts I’ve been on, times in which I think I’m pursuing truth when I’m actually just being distracted from what you have called me to do. Lord, may we be made more and more aware of the enemy’s deception and intuned instead to your Holy Spirit. May we be driven by that Spirit to hear your call and respond obediently to it. Lord, place us within a healthy, functioning body of believers where our unique gifts and talents can be used to bring you glory. Thank you for allowing us to live at this time in history. Help us not to be distracted by the chaos or trapped in the pursuit of trying to make sense of the nonsense. Help us instead to be a light in the darkness, that others may find you and make you the Lord and Savior of their lives. Grant us the peace that surpasses all understanding. In your name, Jesus, I pray, amen.