He was relaxing on the palace roof when he saw her. Now in his early 50s, King David was tantalized by the beauty of a young woman bathing on a nearby rooftop.
But things went too far. Bathsheba, the wife of one of his officers, became pregnant. A scandal was inevitable. He tried to cover it up by calling Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, back to the city. For three days he entertained him, urging him to have a night at home with his wife. But Uriah refused: his troops were still fighting.
David adopted an unscrupulous plan. He had Uriah put at the center of a major battle as his troops were drawn back. Left to fight alone Uriah was killed. David married Bathsheba. Like the eye-surgeon in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, David had apparently committed the perfect crime. But he had made a mistake. He had forgotten God.
Today we live in a self-absorbed society where everyone is intent on pursuing their own interests and pleasures, ignoring the reality of God.
Not that this is new.
Writing in his Letter to the Romans (1:28-32), Paul the Apostle says: Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.’
As Paul points out earlier in Romans 1, we have evidence all around us that there is a creator God. We also have the evidence of history – the life of a unique man, Jesus of Nazareth who, after he was put to death, was raised again to life.
Furthermore, we have the awareness of our own conscience that we are guilty before a holy God. To agree with the implied conclusions of Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors suggests that there is no ultimate justice – that there is no God to whom we are all accountable. We may as well live as we like.
But it is foolish to ignore the reality of God. Psalm 49:13-14 (it’s worth reading the whole psalm) says: Such is the fate of the foolhardy, the end of those who are pleased with their lot. Like sheep they are appointed for death; … But God will ransom my soul from the power of death, for he will receive me.
Repentance. Three millennia ago, the prophet Nathan rebuked King David (2 Samuel 12). David was reminded that the guilt within him was neither socially conditioned nor a psychological hang-up. He knew he had offended God: You are justified, God, in your judgment, for against you alone, have I sinned… (Psalm 51:4).
Some disagree with David’s words: Against you alone, God, have I sinned… ‘What about Uriah?’ they ask. Bathsheba may have consented, but what about Uriah? David expresses what we all have to come to terms with: ultimately all sin is against God. Committing adultery and murder is breaking the second commandment: ‘Love your neighbor’. But sin against our neighbor is first and foremost sin against God. We cannot come to terms with our guilt until we personally deal with God.
And so, when David turned to God in an honest confession from his heart (Ps.51:7), he could say: Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
We need to be cleansed, not merely from our isolated sinful acts, but from sin’s powerful grip on our lives. So David prays: God, create in me a pure heart… (Ps.51:10). Our problem is that we too often shy from this. We don’t want to change.
As speakers at GAFCON last week observed, when we fail to call one another to repentance we preach a false gospel. How important it is that when we turn to Christ we do so in true repentance and in faith. How important it is when we gather as God’s people we also confess our sins against God before one another, for our own benefit and also for the benefit of outsiders who are present.
When by God’s grace we do truly turn to him with heartfelt repentance, we have this assurance: God in Christ not only pardons our sin when we turn to him and confess it, but also delivers us from its consequences.
The English 1662 Book of Common Prayer puts it well: ‘God, and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desires not the death of a sinner, but rather that he/she may turn from his/her wickedness, and live; and has given power, and commandment, to his Ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins: He pardons and absolves all who truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy gospel. Wherefore let us beseech him to grant us true repentance, and his Holy Spirit, that what we do now may please him, and that the rest of our life may be pure and holy, so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com