Saturday Night Theologian
17 June 2007

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15

It has frequently been noted that when Bill Clinton lied about sex no one died, but when George W. Bush lied about Iraq, thousands of Americans and at least tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of Iraqis died. When Christians consider the story of David and Bathsheba, they tend to focus on the sex. While committing adultery was certainly wrong, I want to focus instead on the fact that the king's actions resulted in the death of several innocent people, both Uriah the Hittite and others. Despite the fact that David is elsewhere called a man after God's own heart, in this story he is a cold, calculating murderer. In order to cover up the sin of adultery, he commits a greater sin (in terms of its affect on others, at least) in plotting Uriah's murder with his loyal henchman Joab. David's plot not only results in the deaths of several soldiers, but it actually weakens his army, for Uriah, who is listed in 2 Samuel 23:39 as one of "The Thirty" mighty warriors of Israel, is killed, along with other particularly valiant men. Several men died for the sins of one man. It's easy to draw a parallel between the actions of King David, which resulted in the deaths of a few, and the actions of President George W. Bush and his advisors, which resulted in the deaths of many. Both actions were precipitated by lust, for a woman in David's case, for oil, or glory, or revenge, or power, in the case of the Iraq war. Both actions required deception to carry out. However, in both cases the lies involved were eventually exposed. Both actions involved military leaders who went along with the plan of the political leader, when they should have known better. Both actions resulted in the loss of innocent lives in war. Finally, in both cases prophets spoke out against the plot. One difference between the two situations, however, is that when confronted with the truth, David admitted his wrongdoing and asked God for forgiveness. To date, the current administration has not admitted that they made a mistake--not a mistake in administering the war, as John McCain and others suggest, but a mistake in waging war on false pretenses in the first place. One indication in the story that David was indeed a man after God's own heart is that he did eventually admit his sin. It's interesting to note that Bill Clinton, after initially denying his sin, eventually admitted it and asked forgiveness as well. Will the current president and his minions do the same? Will those who supported the war admit their mistake as well? Will those who continued to support the president in 2004, after the lies--about WMDs, and yellowcake uranium, and aluminum tubes, and connections to al Qaeda, etc. ad nauseum--were apparent? Will the nation confess its sin before the world community and ask forgiveness for its misdeeds, as it should? Probably not to the last question, but as for the other questions, who knows? In any case, modern day prophets need to continue to speak out courageously on this and other issues, if we would be people after God's own heart.

Psalm 32

(first published 13 February 2005)

How truly happy is a man
When God forgives his blackest sin.
What joy when God removes the guilt
Through him whose precious blood was spilt.

When hidden sin was in my life,
My days and nights were full of strife.
I felt your rod upon back.
My heart despaired, my strength grew slack.

In desperation to you I cried.
My deepest sin I did not hide.
I said, "My sins I must confess,"
And you forgave!  You called be blest.

So pray to God you pure in heart,
While it is day before the dark.
You hide me, Lord, from misery
And surround me with shouts of victory.

"I will show you the way you should go,
And teach you wisdom that you should know.
Don't stiffen your neck in pride and say,
'I can make it,' for I am the Way."

The wicked live in sore despair,
But for the faithful God's mercy is there.
So be happy in God and lift your voice,
You righteous ones, rejoice, rejoice!

Galatians 2:15-21

(first published 13 June 2004)

What does it mean to be crucified with Christ? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, alluding to Christ's call to his disciples to take up their cross and follow him, said, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." Bonhoeffer's book from which this quote is taken is called in English The Cost of Discipleship, but in German the title is simply Nachfolge, Discipleship. The English word "discipleship" comes from the same root as the word "discipline," so the ideas of training, rigor, and effort come to mind when we think of discipleship. These are certainly important facets of discipleship, but they are only secondary. The primary meaning of the term is more closely related to the German word, which literally means "to follow after." In this day and age we cannot literally follow Christ to the cross (fortunately for all of us!), but we can follow him in other ways. Paul says that no one is justified by works, because we all fall short of the full requirements of the law. The only justification, then, is through faith. For Paul, the Christian life is characteristically a life of faith. Although right and wrong still exist, there are no hard and fast rules by which Christians must live. Whenever Christianity degenerates into a religion of rules and regulations--whether the Roman Catholic church of the period of the Inquisition, or the Puritan church in New England during the colonial period, or the establishment churches during the Apartheid period in South Africa--people suffer and the gospel is suppressed. Fundamentalists today are afraid of the New Testament concept of freedom that Paul proclaims, fearing that people will pervert liberty into libertinism. True, that's a danger, but without the opportunity to take freedom to an extreme, there is no true freedom. Being crucified with Christ means following Christ freely, acting with an open heart and an open mind, seeking to do God's will, whatever the cost.

Luke 7:36-8:3

(first published 13 June 2004)

In the eighth circle of Hell, according to Dante's Inferno, in the sixth "pouch," reside the Hypocrites, all those who feigned righteousness but were inwardly wicked. They are doomed to spend eternity walking in circles while wearing cloaks that are dazzling gold on the outside but lined with burdensome lead on the inside. Thinking oneself better than others, which is a form of hypocrisy, is a sin that is a constant temptation to followers of God throughout the ages. Jesus tells a parable about two debtors whose debts have been forgiven. The one with the greater debt is understandably the more grateful of the two. One point of this story is that those who have been forgiven a great debt feel a great deal of thanks to God. Another point is that those who recognize the depths of their sin are more honest than those who think their sins are relatively minor and insignificant; consequently, the former, when they are forgiven, will be more in tune with God than those who think they have little or no sin. The incident in the house of Simon is a story of redemption and refusal. The woman who washes Jesus' feet with her tears recognizes her abject depravity and her need for God's salvation, and as a result, she has her sins forgiven. The Pharisee, on the other hand, believes himself more or less free from sin, so he neither seeks nor receives forgiveness. Do we see ourselves like the woman or like Simon the Pharisee? Are we so aware of our sins and failures that we recognize our inability to save ourselves, turning to God in desperation and complete contrition? Or do we minimize our sins, calling them "mistakes" or "faux pas," overlooking their consequences on ourselves and others, thereby fooling ourselves into thinking that we have no need of God's forgiveness? I don't believe that the woman was a greater sinner than Simon, she was just better at recognizing her sin, and she was more honest about admitting it. As the psalmist says in Psalm 51, our sins are always before God--we can't hide them. We are all sinners in need of forgiveness and redemption. The good news is that God stands ready to forgive us if we will only ask.