God & Sin

The simple three letter word ‘sin’ is not often used by people today. It’s not that sin has gone away or has ceased to exist. It’s just that we have different words for it. We talk of violence and abuse, of stalking, trafficking and grooming. Words such a scams, money laundering and tax evasion are used instead of theft or steeling, unlawful killing and assassination instead of murder. It is as if sin has somehow become sophisticated.

Have you noticed as well how certain types of sin are deemed to be worse in some circles than others, how some sins that seemed unforgivable in recent history are now hardly sins at all while other sins that that few decades ago were brushed under the carpet are now headline news? Previous generations thought nothing of telling jokes against black people and Irishmen but to do so now is to be racist. The demeaning of women has been highlighted by the ‘Me Too’ movement. Legislation to curtail child abuse through ‘safeguarding’ gets ever tougher while pressure to relax controls on abortion grow. How then do we measure sin? Is it for politicians to decide or a matter of public opinion?

Today, we pick up again on the story of King David, arguably Israel’s greatest king. We have seen in recent weeks just how successful the humble shepherd boy from Bethlehem has become. He has subdued the Philistine armies, captured Jerusalem as his strong hold and managed to get all the tribes of Israel to give him their allegiance. Last time, we heard how he wanted to build a temple to house the Ark of God but when he heard God’s word clearly through the prophet Nathan, he let that go agreeing that it was a job for his successor. David then appeared as a paragon of virtue, a rare breed, a man of power, wealth and prestige who was willing to listen to God rather than his own voice. Was he really that good or did sin still play a part in David’s life?

The answer lies in the previous chapter. It’s springtime when kings prepare to go into battle. David is relaxing on the roof his palace in the late afternoon sun when he sees a beautiful young woman bathing. David sends a messenger to find out who she is. Her name is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah who served in the king’s army. As king, David can have what he wants. He orders Bathsheba to be brought to him so that he can have sex with her. In this he breaks the Jewish law on two counts. He commits adultery with another man’s wife and has sex with a woman while she in a time purification after her period.

The upshot is that Bathsheba is pregnant by the king. Will David fess up? No! he covers up. He firstly tries to get Uriah to sleep with his wife so that the child will look his rather than the king’s. Uriah won’t play ball. He’s getting ready to fight battles and believes it is his duty to be with the men. Even when David gets him drunk, Uriah stubbornly refuses to go to his wife. When coercion fails, David takes the drastic step of ordering Uriah to be in the place of greatest danger in the battle. The inevitable happens. Uriah is killed leaving Bathsheba widowed and the way open for David to take her as his wife.

This is where we pick up the story. Few in court would have known the dark truth behind these events. Some would have seen it as a ‘good news’ romantic story: ‘King marries grieving officer’s wife following battle tragedy.’ Those who did know the truth were no doubt sworn to secrecy on pain of death.

God of course knew the whole sorry tale. He prompts the faithful prophet Nathan to visit the king and help him understand the divine displeasure. I’m sure Nathan was pretty scared at the prospect, but the way he handles the situation is plain brilliant. He tells David a story which allows David to see the sin clearly and to become angry at his own sin. The subsequent discussion allows us to reflect on the nature of sin and how God deals with it.

Firstly, notice that Nathan’s little story focuses on only one of David’s sins, his deliberate negligence in placing Uriah in the line of fire. It reminds me of hapless Matt Handcock, former health secretary, caught on a security camera canoodling his advisor. Do you remember what his sin was? Breaking Coronavirus social distancing rules! Nothing about having an affair with another man’s wife. Does Nathan home in on one sin, the effective murder of Uriah, rather than the adultery which was tantamount to rape? Is that part of his social conditioning in a male dominated society where men had many wives? That may or not be the case, but it does remind us that we should read the bible as a whole and consider it’s witness in the case of all sin. The sanctity of marriage is clear in Genesis, in the seventh commandment and on the lips of Jesus. In the last commandment, in Jesus’ teaching and that of the apostles, sexual desire is seen has something that should be held in check for the good of all. David commits sin on a number of counts. As the summary statement at the beginning of our reading makes clear: ‘the thing that David had done displeased the Lord’ (2 Samuel 11.27). All sin is sin and when we do it, it displeases God, we fall short of his glory. (Romans 3.23)

Secondly, we can see in this story that David’s power is part of the problem. Because he is the king, he can ask his courtiers for what he wants and they will not deny him. He can lean on them to cover up for him.  ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ (Lord Acton) It would not take any of long to find examples of sin in high places. Neither would it take us long to find it in so called low places too. People are often too quick to point out the sin of people living on estates such as Caia Park. All of us are aware of those sins and the harmful effects they have on the whole community. The suggestion is often made that the way out of those sins is to provide better opportunities and more facilities suggesting that poverty drives people into sin. I accept that it is a factor, but equally so is wealth power and education. However, we try to engineer society, we cannot engineer out sin. There is only one place that sin can effectively be dealt with. That is the place of crucifixion, the place where the lamb of God died for the sin of the world.

Thirdly, we see at the end of our reading, David in a place of confession. He says to Nathan. ‘I have sinned against the Lord’ (2 Samuel 12.13) Nathan’s potent story about the rich man who steals the poor man’s lamb to feed his guests brings David to his knees. He recognises how his behaviour has grieved God and seeks forgiveness. Nathan effectively offers absolution. ‘Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die’ (2 Samuel 12.13) This does not mean that David will not still have to live with the consequence of his sin. ‘The sword would not depart his house.’ (2 Samuel 12.10) He would still need to fight battles and the love child born to Bathsheba would die. It does mean that David’s relationship with God is restored allowing God to bless and support him a way he never could with Saul who did not confess his sin.

In our world, sin is called all sorts of things. What is seen as serious wrong in some quarters is passed off in others. Different periods of our history damn certain behaviours over others. Ultimately, sin is against God. If we don’t believe in God, there is no sin, just unacceptable behaviour. If we do believe in God, then our sin will displease him as did David’s. In the cross of Jesus, God’s love and justice meet. Our relationship with God is restored and we can live a better life.

Trinity 9  01.08.2021

Rev Jonathan Smith

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