I am a natural worrier. As a Christian and more specifically as a Calvinist I know that God declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), that he works everything together for my good and for his glory (Romans 8:28), and that moreover I am commanded not to worry but to pray regarding my concerns (Philippians 4:6-7). But I still worry, and thus often need to add repentance for that worry to my prayers.
Nevertheless, as I have grown in age, in faith, and hopefully in wisdom I have increasingly found that while I worry about difficulties that I see possibly forthcoming, I am beginning to cope a bit better with those difficulties when they occur. Perhaps if I could redirect my tendency to worry into a posture of concerned yet believing and hopeful prayer I would be better off. An interesting though unhappy example of this very thing is found in the twelfth chapter of 2 Samuel.
Prior to this passage David had sinned by sleeping with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his faithful soldiers. When she informed David that she was pregnant, David attempted to cover his sin by recalling Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband) from the front in the hopes that he would sleep with his wife while he was home, and the sin would be thus covered. When Uriah refused to return to his house and to his bed while his fellow soldiers were still in the field, David arranged to have Uriah killed. He then married Bathsheba.
In the chapter I am presently considering David is confronted by the prophet Nathan, after which he confesses his sin. We read of this in short form here in 2 Samuel 12, and a longer prayer of confession from David in Psalm 51. Still, Nathan tells David that because of his sin God will strike down the child that is born to Bathsheba, in addition to bringing longer-term dysfunction into his household. The child becomes sick soon thereafter, and David spends the next week in fasting and prayer for the boy, who dies after seven days. David’s servants are afraid to tell him of the child’s death, evidently fearing that the self-humiliation in which the king has engaged during the child’s sickness might turn to self-harm after his death. To their surprise, though, after learning of his son’s death David rises, washes himself, and asks for food. When asked about his behavior, David replies “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:22-23)
Thankfully, few of us will face a personal disaster as calamitous as the death of a child, and in the present absence of prophets like Nathan none of us will be able to trace that disaster to a particular sin. Still, there are a few lessons for dealing with traumatic events of various kinds that can be drawn from David’s behavior here, which I’d like to discuss briefly.
- When he sees the disaster coming, David acknowledges and repents of his sin.
Again, David’s being told that the death of his son would occur and would occur because of a particular sin is unique to his situation, and we should not presume to be able to assign certain potential or actual tragedies as the result of certain sins. However, we do know from Scripture that whatever evil exists in the world does so because of sin. As we see danger possibly approaching repentance of all known sin is an appropriate action, even a prerequisite to asking God to prevent disaster from occurring. If God does not prevent it, repentance is still appropriate as we ask him to deliver us from or enable us to cope with whatever evils happen to us in this life.
- When there is still time, David appeals to God’s mercy.
From the time that his child fell sick until his death, David humbled himself and prayed earnestly for the child’s deliverance. While God had already pronounced sentence, David knew from God’s prior dealings with the people of Israel that God sometimes relents from a declared judgment when the people (corporately or through a representative) humble themselves and pray. In a similar (though not identical) manner, when we see some personal disaster looming on the horizon it is right for us to humble ourselves and pray for God to deliver us from it. The history of God’s dealing with his people recorded in Scripture—and even that recalled in our own lives—tells us that God can and often does deliver his people.
- When the disaster occurs, David moves on with life, trusting in God’s goodness despite his horrible experience.
After the child died, David worshiped God, comforted his wife, and moved on with his life, still facing the other earthly consequences of his sin. While he no doubt continued to sorrow over the loss of his son, after the promised judgment occurred he ceased praying for its prevention and instead trusted in God’s continued love, forgiveness, kindness, and favor in the face of this disaster. Likewise, when whatever potential disaster we see coming actually takes place despite our prayers of repentance and pleas for deliverance, the appropriate response is to continue to trust in God, and move on. This is not to say that we will not still have sorrow—the Bible never demands that Christians be always “happy”—but we are with God’s help to continue our lives in the face of whatever evils have befallen us, trusting that all things will work together for our good and his glory, just as he has promised.
Bad stuff happens, and will continue to do so until Christ’s return. Until then, when we see evil coming we should repent of known sin and implore God to prevent the tragedy from occurring. Then, whether he prevents it or not, faithfully rest in the promise of his continued love, care, and provision for us. Despite the heinousness of his sin that brought about his terrible circumstances, David gives us an example of how to do just that.