The Missing Voice
Before we moved from Alexandria to Atlanta, Jennell was the Executive Director of the first federally funded community health center in Northern Virginia. Many days she would come home to recount horrific stories of immigrant women who had made the treacherous journey from Central America through Mexico and into the United States. A common denominator of most stories was that these women had been raped, many on multiple occasions. They would tell Jennell such abuse was the border toll for desperate women and their children.
As a white, male, who has lived most of my life with far more privilege than I deserve, I always cringe when I hear stories about the rape and the sexual exploitation of women, usually by men in positions of privilege. It is an unsavory topic and it seems as though we would be spared from discussing such abhorrent behavior while sitting in the safe confines of church on a Sunday morning. After all, there is more than enough unsavory news out there today. Why bring it in here?
Well, the answer to that question is not really not very hard. This topic is at the heart of our family story, even if it is part of the story that no one tells at Christmas or around the Thanksgiving Table. This part of our family story is graphic, deeply troubling, and the only hero in the tale is set up to be murdered. It is a story of the abuse of power, of collusion, or to be more precise, of conspiracy.
The subject of all these horrific acts is a not a bit player in our family story, someone whose name everyone has long since forgotten or in not spoken in polite company, like Judas or Pontius Pilate. The subject is not someone the family story has chalked up as a villain, someone to be spit upon and cast aside from family memory. No, the subject is probably the most familiar and beloved name in what Christians call Hebrew Scripture or the Old Testament. The subject is the King of Israel, during the fleeting Camelot period; religious lore names him author of the Psalms. The subject of this part of our family story is the precious child of God, David.
Maybe it is best that this story appears in the heart of the summer months, hopefully, while people are away on well-deserved vacations or are taking a Sunday break. Why? Well, because it is a story that not only makes you cringe; it breaks your heart.
The story begins with a king doing what kings do after a long, hard, winter; they go to war. The story begins, “In the spring, in the time when kings go off to war.” Going to war sounds as natural as crocuses blooming in spring. It is what kings, what people in power, do. The story begins with no justification for war or debate about the moral complexities of war. It says nothing of the cost of casualties when powerful ones send young ones off to war. No, it is spring and that is when kings lead the young into war.
For some in this sanctuary, that statement alone conjures up unwelcome memories, for some, it sends chills down the spine, but the truly chilling parts of the story are yet to come. David sends others off to war while he luxuriates in his opulent setting. In his spare time, he does some regal peeping, until a beautiful, bathing woman catches his eye. He then does what too many powerful men still do; he sees a desirable woman, sends for her, and rapes her. It does not matter that she is married, much less married to a commander in David’s army. He wants her and he takes her. It is the prerogative of power for powerful men to do with women as they want and this story gives us no hint that David thinks twice about it.
Bathsheba goes home and deals with her sexual assault as best she can, until she learns that she is pregnant. David learns of the pregnancy and the wheels begin to spin. He puts a plan in place to bring her husband, Uriah, home immediately to sleep with her, so there will be no doubt about who is the father of the baby. David’s plan is foiled by a military leader with too much honor. He refuses to do what David wants while his troops and the ark of the covenant, the traveling sanctuary of God, are still in the field of battle.
David is dumbfounded. How could someone who has been given the chance to sleep with his wife, instead, deny himself and sleep outside? Men with too much power are often dumbfounded in the face of those with integrity and honor. David does not give up easily. Next, David tries to get Uriah drunk enough that he will forget his moral compass and go in to sleep with Bathsheba. Once again, David’s plans fail. Uriah has too much integrity to fall victim to any narcissistic desires.
Well, it seems as if every king, every person in power, has a fixer, someone who takes care of the problem. David colludes with the fixer, General Joab, to make sure that Uriah is stationed on the front lines where no soldier survives. Technically, neither David nor Joab kill Uriah, but they collude to assure that Uriah will be killed, a plan as sure as kings going out to war in the spring. The plan works and Uriah dies. David takes Bathsheba as his wife and the story seems to end.
I cannot find one hymn that is based on this story and I have never heard a pastor offer a children’s story based on this awful stain on the family story. Even more significant, I cannot find one mention of God in the entire story. Perhaps, it is best not to having God flow off your lips while you are raping another man’s wife, conspiring to cover-up your act, and then planning a cold-blooded murder.
Well, though David did not seek the counsel of God during this whole sordid story, God’s voice will not be silenced, even by a king. After Uriah is dead, Bathsheba is now David’s wife, and she has borne him a son, we meet a new character in the story, one sent from God to speak to David. He is a prophet by the name of Nathan. I suspect he is the prophet who drew the short straw. He has one chance to bring David to his knees and to his senses. The odds are not in his favor, but nonetheless, he tells David the story of a powerful, rich man in the kingdom who steals from a poor man, taking the poor man’s one lamb. Outraged, David, says, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die.” He then asks Nathan, “Who is this man?” Nathan, probably choking on his tongue, says, “You are the man!”
At this point, David can avoid the mirror no longer and confesses, “I have sinned against the Lord.” His confession does not sweep away his sexual abuse and conspiring to murder; it does not excuse his abuse of power, but it does begin a new chapter in the family story.
Thank God for Nathan and the Nathans of the world who listen to the voice of God and refuse to be silenced by power, refuse to accept the abuse of power as the inevitable way of the world. Thank God for a pivotal moment of self-awareness by David, a moment when he does not try to defend his reprehensible behavior or justify it but confesses his unworthiness before God.
This part of our family story is not typically told around our Thanksgiving or Christmas tables, but it is told every time you and I come to this table. You see, this is the table of redemption, where God invites us to be honest with God, with each other, and ourselves. This is the table of reconciliation where God through Jesus washes us clean, no matter how deep the dirt. This is the table of hope where God refuses to be silenced but calls us to confession and graces us with new life. This is the table of justice, where the rich and powerful attend to the needs of those who are not and everyone is fed, abundantly.
This is God’s table, but today we have heard our story. So, come now, to the table of grace.