Psalm 51 immerses us in David’s repenting for his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband Uriah. His expression of repentance in that Psalm stirs our hearts with its sincerity and frankness. We may, in our admiration of his prayer of penitence in Psalm 51, overlook that David suffered from consequences of his sin even after his repentance. Nathan, the prophet who confronted David, warned him that he would continue to suffer. The child conceived during the adulterous liaison would die. When the child became ill, David responded by calling for fire: “David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them” (1 Samuel 12:16-17).
After a week the child died. David’s servants feared to tell him the bad news; they thought he might kill himself. He had not eaten and may not have slept for a week. He only had prayed fervently, I suspect frantically, that God would heal his son. The son had died and the king’s servants were afraid of what he might do now. He shocked them with his response:
“David noticed that his servants were whispering among themselves and he realized the child was dead. ‘Is the child dead?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ they replied, ‘he is dead.’ Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food and he ate”
(2 Sam. 12:19-20). David’s servants didn’t know what to think. His actions were not what they expected. They expected David, after having prayed and fasted so intensely for his son’s recovery, to mourn the son’s death with equal or greater fervor. David, however, took a bath, got dressed, went to worship God, and then ate a normal meal. David explained his actions to his servants, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live. But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:22-23).
David recognized that God had said, “No.” The Lord had not healed his son. David, however, did not collapse in grief or shake his fist in anger at God. He accepted that he could not change the situation and he moved forward. He bathed, he dressed, he went to a place of worship, then he came home to eat. David had poured out his heart to God when he prayed for healing; now he would comfort Bathsheba. Eventually they would have another son, Solomon, who would succeed David as king. But at that moment, the prospect of having another child almost certainly did not comfort David or Bathsheba. They had lost a son whom they loved. David had mourned during the child’s illness. He had heard Nathan’s warning; he knew that the child would die, but he fervently had pleaded for God to choose a different course of action.
Some people struggle with the concept of the child’s dying as a consequence of his father’s sin. It seems unfair. Nathan the prophet actually had addressed the issue when confronting David. According to the Torah (Law of Moses), David and Bathsheba should have been executed because of their adultery and the subsequent murder of Bathsheba’s husband. After David’s penitence and confession of sin, Nathan said, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die” (2 Sam 12:13b).
Sin has consequences. People suffer every day because of other peoples’ immoral, criminal, or just irresponsible actions. They contract illnesses, cars are totaled, property is damaged because of what other people have done. Marriages end in divorce, people pay fines, people go to prison, and people still die because of things they themselves or others have done. The New Testament teaches that we may be forgiven because another son died: “But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We still may suffer consequences from our actions, but now we can move forward forgiven and alive.
The Bible teaches that we may pray for God to choose another course of action other what we discern he will do. Jesus and biblical writers encouraged disciples to pray persistently. There are times, however, when we must follow David’s example in cleaning up, getting dressed, going to worship, and then moving on. On most occasions, as I recently read elsewhere, God’s saying ‘no’ means that he has something better in mind. Usually, that is almost impossible for us to believe when we realize that we will not receive what we asked. David’s actions in following recognition of God’s answer with continuing to worship God with others and resuming normal activities provide us a template to follow that gives us hope for renewal.
O God who provides, Sometimes we question why you have denied our prayers. Your silence disturbs us. We want to argue, but slowly we realize that what we asked will not happen. We wonder whether you said “no,” or if your answer is “maybe later.” At other times, your negative answer confronts us with its clarity. We cannot deny that we understand your answer. Perhaps something better awaits, but we’re not ready to contemplate that scenario. We grieve or we invest too much emotionally in “yes” to accept “no” easily. Help us to listen well when we pray. Grant us the discernment to know when to move on. We thank you for the cocoon of your church where we may remember that you do provide. We witness your love in the lives of others. They shelter us in the warmth of their prayers, their songs, and their love. Give us strength, give us hope, show us the path to walk. In Jesus’ name, Amen.