“It isn't as if King David opened his eyes that morning, to ask, ‘What are the 3 most effective ways I can take this blessed God-given- life and invoke the worst conceivable miseries upon me and on everyone I love?’...
David had abrogated his covenant with God: Although his duty as a King was to be with his soldiers, he decided not to go with them. Perhaps he had never stayed back before; maybe he was feeling his age; or had a touch of the flu...we each can easily place ourselves in the shoes of this man.
When I do this today, I feel affirmed in my long-held fear of idleness. Long before I converted to Christianity, there was something dark and dangerous about too much time on my hands.
Some years ago, I wrote those words about King David: He who was saturated with the glory of God decided not to join his soldiers. Rather than following the annual tradition, he stayed at home. And had time to ‘wander the roof of his palace.’ Evidently a higher rooftop than those of his constituents, permitting a view that unleashed the banality of vice: lust, greed and murder.
Praying the Liturgy of the Hours for over ten years has evoked a friendship with this ancient Israeli King. I write ‘friendship’ because of the deep thought, prayer and numerous writings prompted by his fall from grace. Such that each time I read these words in the second book of Samuel, I feel deep sorrow:
At the time of year, when kings go out on campaign, David sent out Joab along with his officer and the army of Israel, and they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. David, however, remained in Jerusalem.
Just five words but their portent haunted me from the very first time that I read the heartbreaking story of David and Bathsheba. David personifies the fragility of all human commitment, integrity, honor, and nobility. He who was told by the Lord through the prophet Nathan,
...It was I took you up from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel. I have been with you everywhere you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you...the Lord reveals to you that he will establish a house for you...I will raise up your heir after you...it is he who build a house for my name...your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.”
We are all too familiar with the banality of lust, greed, and pride and therefore we are dismayed, even angry when we see the sordidness displayed in all their glory in the lives of those whom we admire- even revere. And we ask ourselves, “How could he or she even think about risking all that she has for...”
Being good isn’t enough, is it? Regardless of our best intentions, each of us must face our shallow, selfish, reliably sinful selves. Most of us, like David, do not arise from sleep one day and decide to... The crucial question is not why or how we fell into sin instead it is what will we do now?
David’s actions exemplify precisely what to do once we have fallen from grace, again.
- When he is awakened to the reality of his actions and their consequences, does he deny his guilt?
- Does he blame Bathsheeba for inciting his passion?
- Or make excuses for his evil acts?
He does none of these. Instead, he accepts the truth, embraces the totality of the evil he has done: I have sinned against the lord. He did not focus on the sins of others, he plunged deep inside himself.
St. Augustine tells us that “He [David] did not spare himself, and was therefore not imprudent in asking to be spared. Consider what you read in the psalm, You will take no delight in burnt offerings...a sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; God does not despise a contrite and humble heart...Search within your heart for what is pleasing to God. Your heart must be crushed.”
And He composes the greatest prayer of contrition of the Christian Church:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
According to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight,
So that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing heart.