By Christie Goodman
One of the seven traditional Psalms for the Lenten season is Psalm 51. It comes with an editor’s note explaining that David wrote it after Nathan had come to confront him about his adultery with Bathsheba. When we go back and look at 2 Samuel, we see that Nathan’s indictment comes right after the birth of David and Bathsheba’s son. So by this point, David has already ordered the death-by-war murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to cover up his own indiscretion.
It makes sense then to hear Psalm 51 as a plea for forgiveness. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love.”
But there’s more. The baby is gravely ill after birth. David pleads with God for his child’s life. He can’t eat. He can’t sleep. He is inconsolable.
If this is part of the reason behind David’s song in Psalm 51, it brings a deeper understanding of verse 7, “Cleanse me with hyssop…” The Jews used Hyssop leaves to paint blood over their doors in remembrance of the Passover. “Lord, pleeeease spare my child.”
I can relate: 14 years ago today, I woke up in a hospital bed with the news that I was no longer pregnant. Nine weeks early, my tiny baby of just over 3 pounds was on life support in a hospital across town. Her body was attached to countless wires and tubes. When I finally got to see her five days later, we turned her over with our fingertips.
Like many mothers of preemies, I grieved and struggled with feelings of guilt. What could I have done differently? Should I have rested more? Should I have taken more vitamins?
Unlike David, I did not have to worry that murderous or adulterous behavior had led to my baby’s struggle for life. I did not have – as David did – someone like Nathan telling me God was displeased and that my child would soon die. Instead, I had doctors reporting that nothing I had done caused this premature birth. But I still wondered.
My baby survived, but David’s didn’t. Perhaps Bathsheba’s grief over the death of her husband affected her unborn child. Who knows? There are tons of natural, physiological reasons babies die today, let alone thousands of years ago. But the reason behind the baby’s death isn’t the point here.
During that week of the baby’s illness, David prayed. He could have tried to hide from God out of shame, feeling unworthy of God’s attention. But no, he knelt before God with humility, knowing he did not deserve God’s compassion but asking anyway.
It would be nice to be able to say David learned from his mistakes, that he was reformed and perfect from that point forward. But he wasn’t. And yet, he is revered.
Perfection is not what God is looking for. He wants us to turn to him. He wants faithfulness. He wants us to love one another.
On this day, March 19, my first-born turns 14. She is happy and healthy. She has been nurtured and prayed for since before her birth by this congregation. And we live in gratitude.
None of us can really know what life was like in David’s time or how God may or may not have intervened, but we do know this: David prayed and God listened. We pray, God listens.