We feel as though our lives flow along in an indistinguishable stream of moments and events. In truth, our legacy is not formed this way. Life is both chunkier and clunkier than this.
Our defining moment—we never see it coming—falls upon us in a moment. Our legacy is too often defined by an awkward lurch as by a premeditated jog. Wisdom means that our unforeseen moment—the thing for which we will be remembered, the event that will hang like an adjective about our neck—will be of one piece with how we have lived up to that moment. People may be surprised by this, but they will say, ‘Yes, this is exactly like him’. And smile.
Sadly, the inverse is also true.
Then Menahem the son of Gadi came up from Tirzah and came to Samaria, and he struck down Shallum the son of Jabesh in Samaria and put him to death and reigned in his place. Now the rest of the deeds of Shallum, and the conspiracy that he made, behold, they are written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. (2 Kings 15:14–15 ESV)
The English translator, in order to collect his well deserved paycheck, is obliged to smooth out the unpolished redundancy of the Hebrew text. Woodenly, the summarizing statement about this forgettable, murdered king reads like this:
Now the deeds of Shallum, and (or ‘especially’) the conspiracy that he conspired, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel?
By this point in the Book of Kings, we are accustomed to this formula. As kings are honored or dismissed by the Israelite historian, we find that there is more to their lives than what he has been able to publish. But these deeds, should someone want to have a look, are available. You’ve just gotta’ look them up.
After all, are not the rest of (fill in the blank)’s deeds written in the Book of the Annals?
The unfortunate and lamentable Shallum is a little different. Shallum’s life distills down to ‘the conspiracy that he conspired‘. It is not a flattering abbreviation of a man’s life.
We don’t get to write our own epitaph. We are not consulted on the matter of how we will be remembered. We generate our legacy, but it is not ours to edit.
The wise and godly person understands this. Her life is of one piece, her ‘what you see’ is the same as her ‘what you get’. When her defining moment comes upon her, she gets no advance warning. Any surprise that is in it is an upside surprise, burnishing an already favorable reputation or—in the harshest cases—vindicating a righteous woman who had fallen under attack.
Biography is not a fair practice. It is raw and unforgiving, never entirely free of a judgmental edge. It selects its own data. It HIGHLIGHTS what it wants.
Almost nobody remembers Shallum. Those who do know only one awful thing about the conspiring lowlife. History’s verdict spits ‘Good riddance.’
So shall it ever be. Much hangs on that one thing, that one moment. Best to make sure it is a bead on a string of handsome little spheres that line up to become something worth wearing, worth guarding in a quiet drawer, to be treasured upon each recurring glimpse with a smile.