Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The "King David" Incident

As I'm working on my sermon for this weekend, I've been studying the story of King David and his "indiscretion" (is that what we're calling it now?) with Bathsheba, which led to a series of cover up attempts and eventually, the death of her husband, Uriah the Hittite, on the battlefront. To quote Sir Walter Scott, "O what a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive..." If you don't believe it, ask Governor Sanford of South Carolina. For that matter, ask ANY of us who, at some point in our lives, worked hard to get away with something! How fast the web is spun; and even if we seem to have gotten away with whatever it was, we still have to live with ourselves, and we don't make very good neighbors, at that point.

When we screw up (the Bible calls it "sin," but that is kind of out-of-vogue), we almost immediately enter the world of religion. Let me explain. First of all, we have to deal with the question of whether what we did is actually wrong. How is this decided? We search our "built in" library of family values or moral laws deposited there by the people who raised us. If that is a fairly extensive library, we might decide that we have done something "wrong" or that violates our programmed values, and something needs to be done about it. We must decided either to seek forgiveness and restitution, or try to sweep the whole thing under the rug. Either way, we move rather rapidly into the religious realm. If we seek forgiveness, psychology only takes us so far. Usually, we feel a need for "cleansing," and the science of the mind often leaves us "fixed" but still dirty, in a manner of speaking. No, many of us reach out to God (or our "Higher Power") for absolution and a dose of grace, Spirit, or whatever it is that might keep us for doing it again. When God forgives--which God has shown a willingness to do--this cleaning process begins.

[I have had parishioners tell me, from time to time, that they didn't "feel" forgiven. I usually ask them if there is someone THEY are carrying a grudge against for some past real or perceived aggrievances. Every time we pray the Lord's Prayer, we ask God to "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us." If God really answers this prayer, we will have a hard time feeling forgiven until we make sure our own "offense slate" is clear. Don't' miss this step, as it has a profound bearing on any hopes we have for spiritual growth.]

If some type of restitution is needed, this is step two. Don't short-change this step either, friends.

Now, this whole thing can take a different direction. We can decide that what we did isn't really wrong. Some people have a stunted moral library because they were raised in a home where the parents themselves provided a poor example. If your parents felt it was OK to smoke dope (regardless of what the law says) then it will be OK for you to smoke dope. If you grew up in a home where your dad bragged to his buddies about how much he screwed the government over on his taxes, they you, too may well look for these "exceptional" deductions at tax time. You get the picture. The other thing that sometimes happens is that we reject our parents' moral teachings and rebel by substituting our own. Often we do this in a subconscious effort to "hurt" our parents in retaliation for their rules or strictness. My observation is that we are the ones who get burned in the end. Oh, our parents may grieve over it, but we wind up empty, shallow, and cut off, ultimately.

Then, of course, there is the King David approach--try to cover up the infraction. One wonders in reading David's story whether he first tried to rationalize his affair: "After all, I'm a King and I deserve a pretty, young wife" or "I've worked hard for these people; I should get a little pleasurable payback." Regardless, Bathsheba winds up pregnant. David first calls her husband, Uriah, back from the battlefield, and sets up a romantic evening for him and his wife. He figures if they spend the night, Bathsheba could say the baby is his. Doesn't work. Uriah won't accept a night of leisure when his troops are at war. Eventually, David's cover up schemes result in Uriah's being sent to the front where he is killed in battle. David marries Bathsheba, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Not quite. In Scripture we are told, "What you sow, you reap." There is a negative consequence for our wrongful acts. Yes, God will forgive us when we confess, and restitution may be good for the soul, but when we sow weed seeds, we get a crop of weeds. God rarely removes the consequences of our screw ups. David and Bathsheba lose a child, and later, David ends up in a death struggle with his son, Absalom. His life is forever different because of his negative behavior.

There is good news in the story. Even in spite of David's wrong-doing, God forgives him and blesses his leadership of Israel. It is encouraging to know that God rarely ever gives up on us! Hope is such an important word, isn't it? And how vital it is that we don't usurp God's judgment role and condemn people ourselves.

Sorry for the sermon on this post, but this whole topic is so pertinent in our day. Parents, raise your kids with a decent library of moral and family values! Find a family-oriented, "reasonable" local Christian Church (or Synagogue, if you are Jewish) to help. (I say "reasonable" meaning the Bible is taught, but not JUST as a collection of highly defined "do's and don't's," but as a resource that helps us understand the human condition and God's efforts to love and redeem us, and provide purpose and meaning for our lives.)

Don't pull a "King David" when you do mess up; 'fess up, get clean, and be reconciled to any parties you offended. Cover ups make great books, movies, and conspiracies, but make for lousy real life.

Still working for Shalom, my friends...Dr. Jeff

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