That’s not fair!
One day, God sends the prophet Nathan to King David, who had ruled over all of Israel for some time. Nathan tells him this story: “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”
Doesn’t that story make you angry? It really upsets me. Doesn’t it represent all that is wrong with our society—all that’s wrong with our world? How self-centered can someone really be? How cold? But we see it all the time. We see the greed. We see the entitlement. We see interactions and decisions made based on one’s own self-interest with complete disregard for anyone else. We see it in social discourse—in politics, in economics. Nobody ever seems to have enough.
David reacts the same way
When David hears the story, he gets angry. He tells Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” He’s sick of it! How dare someone take advantage of someone else in such a cruel, heartless way! David’s anger certainly is righteous—isn’t it? He’s going to handle this situation and make sure that this kind of treatment won’t ever be tolerated in his kingdom! He’s not just going to make sure the man pays his debt, he’ll pay fourfold! And then he’ll be put to death, because people like this aren’t welcomed or even permitted to live as long as he’s king!
But just when he’s ready to go find this scoundrel, just when he’s ready to lecture him, reprimand him, throw him into prison, give him the death penalty and rid the world of this terrible excuse for a human being, David gets a wake-up call.
What have I done?
Nathan tells David, “It’s you. You’re the man! You’re the wretch! You’re the scoundrel, David! You want to find him? Look in a mirror! You want to get rid of him? He’s right here!” And Nathan says, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You’ve killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword. You’ve taken his wife to be your wife. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites! What’s wrong with you? You’ll never have peace again, because you despised me and did this terrible thing!”
Wow. That must have been pretty sobering. Remember that David slept with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah—one of his loyal warriors. Once David found out that Bathsheba was pregnant, he brought Uriah back from battle to sleep with his wife so he would think that the child was his own. Out of fidelity to his soldiers—who did not have the luxury of being back home—and to his king, Uriah slept out on David’s doorstep. With no other way to cover up what he did, David then sent Uriah back into an impossible battle to die to cover up the fact that he slept with his wife.
Now, God is going to show David how quickly all of his riches can vanish—riches that were given to him by God in the first place. He says, “what you did to poor Uriah, the same will happen to you! I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing in front of everyone—in front of your whole kingdom!” Eventually, God makes it happen. One of David’s own sons—Absalom—kicks David out of his own kingdom very publicly. After David leaves Jerusalem going up the Mount of Olives weeping, Absalom goes to the roof of David’s palace and publicly—in front of all of Israel—takes each of David’s concubines one by one.
When we repent, God has mercy
When confronted with his own sin—the terrible thing he’s done—David’s righteous anger turns to confession. He tells Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” I’ve sinned! It’s me! I don’t deserve to be anywhere near God’s presence. It’s easy to get upset—angry—with all of the wrongs so clearly committed by others but confronting our own sin—our own evil—is much more difficult. It’s so hard to acknowledge that we’re the ones who are greedy; we are the entitled, the cruel, the heartless. Nobody wants to think of himself as a scoundrel, but that’s what sin is. And Nathan responds to David—to his confession—differently than the way that David responds to the initial story. Nathan tells David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” You’re forgiven. You are forgiven. After these events, David would go on to write Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” David begs, “make me new!” And God does.
Our sobering reality
Yet, Nathan continues, “Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.” David is forgiven by God, but his child will face the consequences—the brokenness of this world suffering for the evil of his father. Later, David would go on to write a Psalm to mourn his child’s death.
This is our sobering reality. Is this world evil? Yes. Is there evil within our own hearts? Yes. Does God forgive us for what we’ve done wrong? Yes. But it doesn’t magically make all of our circumstances right again. We face the consequences of our own evil acts, and we’re the victims of the evil acts committed by others. God forgives us and calls us to afford that same forgiveness to others. Our anger isn’t righteous, but God’s forgiveness is. Let’s work to put it on full display in our lives, in our relationships, in the way that we talk about others—especially in todays’ society.
In the midst of trying to navigate life in such a difficult and often tumultuous world, we are fully reliant on God—the one who gives and takes away. One of the hardest things in the world is to recognize that God is enough. God is enough. We don’t need to take from others or covet what others have. We don’t need anything besides God and what he’s given to us. We’re not entitled to it. We don’t somehow need more of it. We don’t deserve it. But he loves us so much, that even in our sin, he provides for us and gives us his grace—he forgives even us.