Mention the name David and people will probably immediately recall the story of the golden boy, the hero who slew Goliath and who became king. He is remembered for many things in his life: his talents, which took him from a life as a shepherd to that of a court musician, to his life as a fugitive from the same man whose depression David’s music had soothed, to his refusal to take the life of the man who was diligently trying to kill him. You can’t tell the Christmas story without bringing David’s name into it, and, after Jesus, David is the second most frequently named person in the whole Bible, more frequently even than Moses, Abraham or anyone else. But then there’s David’s dark side.
People do remember David’s less-than-noble lust after Bathsheba and his subsequent murder of her husband in order to conceal a pregnancy he, David, had caused. That’s where this story picks up. Bathsheba bore a son, David’s son, and now that son was in danger of death. David had been warned by Nathan that the child would die but David did what most parents would do in the same circumstance. he fasted, pleaded with God and even lay on the ground, all in hopes that somehow God would hear him and spare the child but it didn’t work and the infant died. The servants were astounded that David got up from the ground, cleaned himself up and asked for dinner. It sounded kind of cold hearted, but, as David said, there was nothing more that he could do for his son. He had done all he could and now he had to take care of himself, comfort his wife and go back to life and work.
David screwed things up royally, literally and figuratively, but he was like anybody else, a human first and a paragon a distant second. How many parents have waited anxiously beside the cribs of their infants and children, praying to God, promising anything within the realm of human possibility, and sometimes a few things that are beyond human possibility, if only God will just cure the child and restore it to a normal happy life. Sometimes those prayers seem to be answered and sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes parents are told by well-meaning others that it was God’s will that the child died or they are given the platitude that God needed another angel in heaven. I have a lot of problems with those assertions, mainly because I wonder who we are to decide what God’s will is and whether or not someone else’s suffering is the result of God’s will. For all David’s flaws, I look at him in this situation and see a man who is torn between knowledge of his own complicity in this child’s suffering and his desire for that child to live and grow despite the circumstances of its conception and David’s own reactions to that conception.
I think there are several lessons I can learn from this story, as painful as it is. The most obvious is that when I sin, sooner or later I am going to face consequences of that sin and chances are it’s not going to be fun. The second is that sometimes all the acts of repentance and begging for a good outcome despite the circumstances just aren’t enough. The third is that sometimes I have to accept the consequences and move on with the intent of doing a better job next time. I’ve done that several times in the past with more or less successful results, but every time I have learned something and that learning has made me a stronger person. It also made me a little smarter perhaps. I know that I can try to bargain with God, like Abraham did, but God isn’t always going to say, “Sure, okay, no problem,” and things will go the way I want. I think God often wants me to not just take responsibility but also to go through the experience and learn from it. It may be cursedly hard but, in hindsight, it has its benefits.
I’m not sure David will ever be one of my absolute favorite characters but I realize I can learn a lot from him, most notably through seeing his flaws and faults and how he dealt with them and then looking to see where my life might have some sort of parallel. Sometimes life means I have to touch a hot stove to learn what heat can do, but usually one bad burn can prevent another.
David and Bathsheba went on to have another son that David named Solomon and Nathan named Jedidiah. Solomon became a great king known for his wisdom but also his flaws. That’s what’s good about Bible stories; I’m always reminded that no matter how great deeds or how far the fall, each story has a human being with all his or her virtues and flaws at its base.
So now I’ve had a reminder lesson in the result of choice and the cost of bad decisions. Today I will be more alert to my decisions; tomorrow I may need the same reminder again. But always, always, I will remember that I am God’s child, warts and all and that sometimes I have to learn the hard way, whether God would prefer it that way or not. Parents don’t like seeing toddlers fall as they learn to walk but they know it’s part of the process. And where did they get that knowledge? Maybe from seeing God in action?