Monday, July 13, 2009

Entangled in Sin's Web

You wouldn't think that shirking a little responsibility would lead to murder but that is the tragic progression of events in 2 Samuel 11.

Up to this point in the story of David he has been an incredible, examplary character. Over and over again, David places a radical faith and trust in God. David's faith has been so tremendous that he has become the very model of what it means to be the ruler of God's people. But even David is not immune to the power of sin.

This tragic story begins innocently enough. David's first error is so small that you might dismiss it as an inconsequetial introductory remark at the beginning of 2 Samuel 11. "Then it happened in the spring at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem." As king, it was David's responsibility to lead his men into battle, a task which David had successfully accomplished so many times before. But this time David shirks his responsibility, sending others to risk their lives while he remains safe and comfortable in the capital city.

Of course, this is something we've all done. At some point or another along the way, we've all abandoned some responsibility, small or great, that we've known was rightfully ours to address. Often, this irresponsibility seems innocent enough at the time. But it is this simple abdication on the part of David that allows him to be on his roof when Bathsheba is bathing. Now David's apathy quickly turns to lust and his lust quickly becomes adultery and an abuse of his kingly authority. David uses Bathsheba has an object to satisfy his needs and sends her back home.

Then come those fateful words. Bathsheba sends word to the king: "I am pregnant." Now David can not hide his sin. Everyone will know that Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, was gone to war at the time of this child's conception. People will ask questions. Word will get out. David has to do something to save his reputation. So the king calls for Uriah to come home from the battlefield and spend a night with his wife. David thinks he has the situation under control; he's devised the perfect cover up.

But David hasn't taken into consideration the kind of principled man that Uriah is; the kind of principled man that David used to be. Uriah refuses to enjoy the comforts of home as long as the rest of the king's men and the ark of the Lord are still on the battlefield. The irony is almost too much to bear; Uriah refuses to sleep with his own wife out of respect for the king who has called him home in an attempt to cover up his affair with Uriah's wife.

Once David sees that his plan has failed, his entanglement in this growing web of sin only grows greater. Uriah will meet the fate that so many principled individuals meet in the midst of unprincipled politics. He unwittingly carries his own death sentence with him in the form of a letter from David to Joab, the commander of the army, in which Joab is instructed to see to it that Uriah is killed in battle. Joab, ever David's obedient and unquestioning servant, follows his orders and sees to it that Uriah (along with several of his fellow soldiers) are killed by sending them into a stratgically suicidal position on the battlefield.

So often I watch the news and am amazed at how incredibly stupid, irresponsible, insensitive, unjust, and downright immoral our politicians can be. It seems to be the exception rather than the rule to find a public figure who is truly honorable. But then passages of scripture like this one remind me how simply and innocently these kind of things begin because the same, powerful sinful nature that is at work within them is at work within me as well. No, I haven't committed adultery or murder and there is something to be said for that. I'm not saying that our politicians or other public figures should be let off the hook because they are really no worse than any of the rest of us. They have been entrusted with a tremendous responsibility and they should face the appropriate consequences when they break that trust.

What I am saying is that when I am being truly honest with myself I know that the same motivations that led to David's tremendous sin are motivations that threaten to control my existence as well. I often have the desire to ignore my responsibilities or to consider certain tasks below me or to abuse what power I have for my own benefit. I too am tempted to treat people like objects rather than people. I too suffer from the infectious desire to look good, to have people think well of me, to avoid public humiliation, and to always be in control of my surroundings. I may not have committed adultery and murder but there is little doubt that all of those forces which led to David's adultery and murder reside somewhere deep in the recesses of my soul as well.

This is what we mean when we talk about original sin, when we talk about all of humanity being sinful. It does not mean that we are all horrible people who are just constantly sinning in everything that we do, although on certain days that may not seem to far from the truth either. It means that even in the many good things we may do there is still a certain part of our nature that is bent in on itself and our own selfish desires. If it were not for the grace of God those powerful desires would so overwhelm us that we would have no choice but to become more and more entangled in sin's web as David is in this story.

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