David, Bathsheba, and Augustine

July 26, 2015

Bible Text: 2 Samuel 11:1-15 |

This has been a difficult week.  Let me just get that out there from the beginning. It has been a week fraught with contradictions:  I have seen the grace of God as well as the despairing sin of humans.  I have been blessed by the reality of abundance even as I have been tempted to believe the demonic lie of scarcity.  I have experienced grace and kindness and compassion, even as I hear of murder, and desolation, and grief.

Perhaps all our days are filled with these sorts of contradictions, but they stood out in stark relief this week.  And, our lectionary readings echo this contradiction much more eloquently than I can.  Our Old Testament lesson relays the tragic tale of David and Bathsheba. Earlier this week, Eric and I introduced Lisa to Morning Prayer.  For the Old Testament lesson, we read an earlier installment of David’s escapades.  Lisa remarked: this is like a soap opera!  She couldn’t be more right:  this chapter of David’s life rivals the plotlines in the heyday of “Falcon Crest” or “Dallas” or any myriad of the reality shows today.   David, the golden son of Israel—the one with whom God has entered into covenant, who smote Goliath, and upon whom rests the hope of a nation, takes another man’s wife and then arranges for her husband to be killed so he doesn’t find out that she’s pregnant with David’s child.  You can’t make this stuff up!  And, I love this about scripture.  In documenting the story, through editing and redaction, it might have been simpler, cleaner, to leave out this episode altogether.  Or, at least spin it so David didn’t come across as quite so wicked.   That’s certainly what we tend to do today.  We have such a need for justification and explanation, such a need to solve for “why”, that we tend to not simply call a sin a sin.  Or, conversely, we smear the scandal all over the tabloids and try the person in the media, evermore branding him as a sinner and denying any goodness he might possess.  But scripture doesn’t do that.  Scripture is content to account for the fullness of a life, replete with its contradictions, victories, tragedies, missteps and moments of grace.  Scripture helps us to see that we are not, as individuals or as a people, all bad or all good. We are complex and it is folly to believe otherwise.

St. Augustine of Hippo, the renowned 4th century theologian, proposed that at the beginning of every sinful act, is a kernel of good—a hungering for the good, and that sin is simply a distortion of the good.  So, keeping this in mind, let’s go back to David.  David spies Bathsheba from his rooftop.  Bathsheba is beautiful, and, he is drawn to her beauty.  He is caught up; she is all he can think about.  Had he not been king, the story may have ended right there, with David pining away for a beauty he could never possess.  However, David is king.  He has power, he has ‘people’ and he sends for her.  David is drawn to beauty, as we all are, because true beauty belongs to God.  Augustine would say that the soul is always drawn to the beauty of the temporal world because it ‘fills in’, as it were, for the beauty of God—the Divine Beauty.  We instinctively reach for beauty—for the Good we know is implicit in the most beautiful, the most holy.

David’s initial instincts, according to Augustine, held that kernel of Good.  Bathsheba represented Beauty and David was captivated.  And it didn’t matter who David was, or that he was on speaking terms with the great I AM, in the end, the Good that David was initially seeking became disordered.  Bathsheba became the object of his carnal desire and any connection between her beauty and the beauty of God was obliterated by his need to have what was not his to take.  His distorted pursuit of beauty led to adultery, and death.  And still, he is one of the heroes of the Old Testament.  His wickedness did not go unpunished and his repentance was mighty, but his adultery with Bathsheba did not destroy his kingship, or his life.

We are complex creatures and one moment, regardless of how grand or how horrific, does not have the power to define all we are and all we have the potential of becoming.  In light of the horrors we hear each night on the news, black churches burning, gunmen in movie theatres, it is perhaps helpful to remember that we all—each and every one of us-- are both sinner and saint.  We have the capacity for much good as well as much evil.   And maybe, like Augustine would claim, even our evil is initially a movement toward a good that we ourselves are incapable of articulating.  Does a hunger for justice turn to violence?  Can a yearning to be loved become twisted into obsession?  It’s possible.  What if, in all our brokenness, acting out is sometimes the only way we know of to be seen, to be relevant?  Was David sinful?  Yes!  Are the acts of violence and racism in our midst sinful?  Of course they are--regardless of the motivation.  But God, and only God, knows the full scope of the human soul.  God alone knows the holy light that fills us because God placed it there, so for all our sinfulness—from the everyday missteps we all make, to the truly monstrous—God continues to love us.  We don’t earn the love, and we certainly don’t deserve the love, but it is there nonetheless.  It is made manifest in the moments of grace that populate our lives.

In true, heartfelt repentance; In forgiveness; In the prodigious abundance with which we are daily greeted;

The love that transforms a few barley loaves and a couple measly fish into a feast for a multitude is the same love that imbues itself into bread and wine, and feeds us today.  And once fed, we gather our broken, imperfect, flawed selves—our glorious, precious, beloved selves, together in order to feed the world.

 

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