God Forgives to help us Forgive
In the biblical history of Israel King David stands out as a central character who is chosen by God. A shepherd and musician, he rises to become king of the united kingdoms of Israel and Judah and conquers Jerusalem where he establishes the Ark of the Covenant as the central place of worship. Through strategic battles and acts of courage he becomes a towering hero of the faith. His mythic status had placed him as the author of the Psalms and even Jesus is said to be have been born from the line of David.
Interestingly enough, this week’s first reading depicts another side of King David. We find that the great hero of the faith is all too human. We pick up the story after at least four of the 10 commandments had been egregiously trashed. He had (a)coveted his neighbor’s wife Bathsheba and (b) impregnated her. To avoid discovery, he (c) invited her husband Uriah to come in from the battlefield and spend the night at home. Being a faithful soldier, Uriah would not comply, so David was forced to go to a more severe solution, (d) he placed Uriah in a battle that would lead to his certain death. There may be e and f too, but I think you see the point.
Perhaps this story is familiar to you from Sunday School. But what is less familiar is the role of Nathan the Prophet.
At the point where our lesson begins, all has gone according to plan. Uriah has been buried and mourned and Bathsheba marries David and is expecting a child. Only David and Bathsheba know the truth and they are not speaking.
One can only imagine what went on in Bathsheba’s mind. We might think it was a combination of terror and trauma, guilt, and confusion. The scripture does not probe the mind of the victim here. Although there are a few stories that do focus on the lives of women, this is not one of them. I can only guess that she had gone numb, the way that trauma tends to protect a victim from being completely overwhelmed by horrific events. Or perhaps her conscience was so scarred that it was no longer operational. We might think of Patty Hearst when she was taken hostage in 1974 and came to identify with her captors. Perhaps a case of Stockholm Syndrome? The truth is, we can only guess.
It seems that David was able to compartmentalize his actions. Perhaps he had been hardened by years of warfare. Perhaps he had developed a kind of Narcissism that comes from having absolute power. But it clearly seems like he imagined he lived in a universe where only his desires determined right and wrong. King Louis the XIV said “L’État c’moi” meaning, “I am the State.” In our lifetime, we might remember Nixon telling David Frost, “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” Granted he was not describing murder, but it shows the kind of psychic inflation and emotional blindness that besets certain leaders.
In our story, God does not want to lose David. God chooses the prophet to reach the highly guarded and dissociated king. Nathan goes in to tell David a story which is parallel to his own story. As David listens to Nathan, his own situation is taken out of the picture and his moral sensibilities are awakened. At that point David returns to being human. He is no longer hiding behind a façade of normality and finds himself reunited with the image of God at the core of his being. He becomes a moral agent and experiences a return of emotional and spiritual life.
Most of us do not live lives as big and bold as King David. But there are things, situations and events that cause us to kill off a part of ourselves. We compartmentalize areas of life to the point of feeling numb or shutting down whole areas of our souls in order not to face the consequences of our actions. Sometimes the scriptures act like a prophet to open our eyes. Sometimes a friend speaks a prophetic word to us that helps us see ourselves in a fuller light. When we can accept that which has been split off because of guilt and shame, we begin to become more fully human. When we can accept God’s forgiveness as we forgive ourselves and others, we find a new integration and return of life.
David could have gone on without ever looking back at his life and his misdeeds, but God did not give up on him. He serves as a model for us to believe that God has not given up on us, even when we feel far away and unreachable. I trust that Bathsheba also returned to life although one which was different from the one she had expected.