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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

On Being a Bad Dad

We have read about King David the last couple weeks in Morning Prayer.. I have been struck by the family dynamics in 13&14. David had multiple wives. The commandments seem to say only one is permitted. For many years I was troubled by this. I wondered why the Bible did not condemn David's polygamy. It was a long time before I made sense of the descriptive nature of the Biblical narratives. The prescriptive (do and don't) was spelled out in the Law and Israel's written prophets. The "prophets" (in Jewish writings what we call "historical narratives" are also called the prophets, a hint into how to read them, perhaps?) which contains Samuel&Kings illustrates why that point is made in Torah. Too many wives/moms is behind most Bible tragedies....

David is a bad dad, to me. He seems very weak in these chapters. Maybe his sin with Bathsheba caused this? Briefly the narrative then my reaction:

Amnon was David's first born son and in line to be king. His half brother (Absalom) had a sister Tamar with whom he was very close. Amnon lusted/"loved" Tamar and was worrying himself sick pining for her. One day Amnon's advisor suggested that Amnon feign illness so he could ask the King (David) to send his sister to feed/nurse him, then he could seduce her. So Amnon did it and as Tamar begged him not to bring this shame on  her, his lust overwhelmed reason and he raped her. Then, we read, he loathed her. His hatred for her was stronger than his 'love' had been which only served to increase her shame. Absalom took his sister in (she was in ashes doing public mourning). King David was angry but said nothing because "he loved Amnon." Absalom bided his time. Note, David did nothing!

It is a horrible story in so many ways. How could a dad remain silent in such a situation? Was David's own guilt for his similar activities (getting a man killed to have his wife) what froze him to inaction? How can a man "after God's own heart" be so terrible? The situation festered in Absalom's heart until one say he hosted a party at sheep shearing time. When the wine was flowing at an agreed upon moment Absalom's men fell on and murdered Amnon. Afterward, the prince fled and remained in exile for three years. David mourned the loss of his two sons and he "yearned for Absalom."  Yet the King did not act!

Eventually through the intercession of his general Joab, David is persuaded to allow Absalom to return home, but he insisted that Absalom go to his own house and not come into the king's presence. Why not reconcile? Why leave it hanging? Why not act on the yearning? The text is silent and we can only speculate. In the end, Absalom leads a rebellion, short lived in success, and he is eventually struck down and killed. David's mourning is so heart wrenching that it is easy to forget that he had failed to act as a father should before the last wicked turn of events.

How could a Biblical hero be such a rotten dad? And how could God allow such a man to rule? Some might point to this and argue that obviously God is not involved. That is one option. Another option is to study the story to see how God is at work among us. It turns out that loving God does not make us perfect. It turns out that Children's Bible stories are only partly true, we edit out the darker shades. The Bible, like real life, is full of good and bad. David is not a role model of perfect behavior. He is another example of the dictum "all have sinned and fallen short." (everyone except Jesus) Prayer, Bible study, personal disciplines do not save us from sinfulness. Faith, hope, love do not either. Not yet, at least. God does. Just not now. The promise is some day he will. In the meantime, we are wise if we learn a lesson from David and act better than he did. We are also wise to understand that we will also make mistakes, sometimes huge mistakes. God is merciful. Someday He will set all things straight. In the meantime we try our best and trust Him for the rest.

Why is David such a bad dad? A myriad of reasons, all summed up in one word: sin. It is why we need a savior, even  the best of us. It is why we need a savior.

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