Such a simple statement and yet so profound. We have been considering the story of David in chapel throughout Lent. Last week we had before us the story of the sin of David. His sin(s) are our sins really, a wonderful and dynamic way of helping us think about the devious ways into sin which define us all as persons of sin. But are we to be left with simply the bleak picture of our sin and evil?
This week we have pondered the remarkable way in which David faces the contradictions of his behaviour. It is about how he is brought to account. The story is told in the form of understatement which presupposes a degree of intelligence on the hearer. Once again, the heart of David is opened to view but not just as hero but as sinner. Yet now, even more, as penitent, as one who confronts himself in his sin and evil.
It is a remarkable and touching story. It is about the true role of prophecy which should always be about an insight into two things: the human heart and God. God would not be God if we could somehow hide from him. We may try to hide from ourselves and one another. We may try, like David, to hide or conceal that which we have done which we should not have done. Such is our folly in relation to God “unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid” (BCP, p. 67). Nathan stands, in contrast to Samuel, as one who has an insight into human character and into the will of God. Such is the nature of prophecy; it has a grasp of the whole of reality of which we are but a part.
How does this confrontation with ourselves in our sin and folly happen? Through the telling of a story. The story shows something of the prophetic wisdom of Nathan. He tells a story to David which moves David to condemn the evil in the story. It is all rather touching. The rich man with many lambs and sheep takes the one little ewe lamb, which is loved like a daughter by the poor man, in order to provide the rites of hospitality for the wayfarer. We sense the injustice in the story and rightly so. The deeper point is about David’s reaction to the story. He immediately sees the injustice and unkindness of the rich man in the story, and, even more, the lack of pity or mercy. Nathan simply says, that is you. “You are the man.” This is exactly what you have done. The story works because David has a conscience which can be moved. He confronts himself in the story which Nathan tells and in its application to himself.
The lessons are clear, I think, for us. Chapel sets before you various Scriptural stories, ethically and philosophically considered, which awaken us to who we are in the sight of God. It is about coming to terms with ourselves. David does not make excuses. He does not try to deny or to diminish his own actions. He does not say ‘that is your truth and this is my truth’, the contemporary sophistic betrayal of all truth. He does not engage in the whine of the poor-me’s, in the litany of trying to justify the unjustifiable. No. He acknowledges what he has done and, mirabile dictu, he recognizes the deeper spiritual meaning of all sin. “I have sinned against the Lord.” This will feature as the strong teaching of Psalm 51, attributed to David and sometimes interpreted as David’s confession in relation to the sins of David seen in 2 Samuel. “Against thee only have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight” (Ps. 51.4).
A powerful story powerfully told, the encounter between Nathan and David speaks to the whole of the educational project of the development of character and to the significance of the ethical at King’s-Edgehill. There is a certain understated beauty in Nathan’s simple words. “You are the man.” In confronting our sins, our failings and our follies, we also confront the overcoming of them; in short, we learn! The story of David is both a mirror and a window, a mirror in which we see ourselves and a window into the truth of God. Such is mercy.
(Rev’d) David Curry,
Chaplain, Head of English & ToK teacher
Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy