During Advent we honor the descendants of the House of David, a royal line of nobles and cads who point the way to the Messiah. King David himself is a fascinating mix of courage and cowardice. He slew the giant warrior Goliath with a single slingshot when he was still a boy, but as king he succumbs to venal desires with deadly consequences. His later sorrow and repentance are well documented in the Book of Psalms.
Poor David—he was doing so well for a while, uniting Israel and making it mighty—but then he lets power go to his head. He sees the beautiful Bathsheba and decides he wants her for his own, even though he knows she is the wife of Uriah, one of his most dedicated soldiers.
When he learns that Bathsheba is pregnant with his child, David tries to get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba so that Uriah will think the baby to come is his. But Uriah, who is preparing for battle, refuses to be with his wife. David decides his only recourse is to have Uriah killed during the battle by one of his henchmen. It is a sordid tale in which the cover-up is worse than the crime.
Why, when he could have had any young maiden he wanted, did David choose someone who was off limits? How could he betray someone who served him so loyally? Perhaps 19th-century historian and moralist Lord Acton offers the best explanation: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
In a time when we moderns are sickened by waste and greed on Wall Street, David’s arrogance seems all too familiar. No matter how much some of us have, we want more—and worse yet, we think we deserve more. How does one get off this treadmill of selfishness and one-upmanship?
Psalm 36 outlines David’s problem: Sinners close their eyes to God and “live with the delusion their guilt will not be known and hated.” But in reality, sinners live in misery: “My frame aches because of my sin” is the lament in Psalm 38. The solution offered—one that John the Baptist and Jesus affirm centuries later—is to repent and turn one’s heart and mind to God. The descriptions of David’s anguish and guilt are reassuring. Guilt is a sign that one still has a conscience— a connection with God that, though frayed, is not completely severed. Advent is a good time for each of us to examine our own consciences and ask ourselves, What gnaws at me? Which of my actions do I know to be dishonest, hurtful, or demeaning to others? What can I do to restore my relationship with God and others?
For more soul-searching questions and faith-filled answers, read the Book of Psalms.