Wednesday, March 4, 2009

David's forgiveness

I was compiling all the passages cited in my book to create an online, scripture-linked index, and found something interesting in 2nd Samuel 12:13-14.

Now, one thing I find interesting about this passage is that David's forgiveness was clearly due to confessing his sins, not due to faith. David had just as much faith before confessing his sin as after. [This is important because the Reformed church claims that all forgiveness, even that in the Old Testament, was due to faith in the coming Christ... of course, the Jews did not believe in a coming singular savior until well after David's reign, so that would land all the patriarchs in hot water...but that is a conversation for another post....]

But, the real reason I brought this encounter up is that I wonder if this scenario serves as a reasonable model of what "forgiveness" means. In one breath we are told David is forgiven, and in the next we are told his son is still going to be struck down by God due to his sin.

If we constrain ourselves to the idea that God's punishment is due to unforgiven sins, this is an odd situation. If David were truly forgiven for his sin, why is God killing the child? And the reason for killing the child is clearly due to David's contempt for God.

But, if instead we allow for two separate ideas to go on here...that forgiveness can lead to reconciliation with God without necessarily meaning exemption from punishment, then the story makes sense. God's [I]anger[/I] is clear in 12:7-12, and it appears that anger has been dissipated when David is forgiven...yet David is still punished.

Or perhaps the killing of the child was punishment done out of a desire for disciplining David, to drive home the danger of sinning against God?

I don't think the disciplining concept is the best way to see this, for my guess is that this punishment is somewhat similar to Moses' and Aaron's punishment for striking the rock [Numbers 20:12], though I suppose one could argue that Moses' death could teach the Israelites something.

This notion of being "forgiven but accountable" would explain two points about the discussions of the Judgment:

i) We are told that we will be held accountable for "every worthless word we speak," and that certainly applies to those who have been forgiven. Similarly for other passages like 2nd Corinthians 5:10. Paul certainly felt he was forgiven [and in a reconciled position with regard to God, as evidenced by receiving the Spirit], yet still felt the need to maintain "a clear conscience before God and man." [Acts 24:16]

ii) In all the descriptions of the Judgment, not one of them describes forgiveness of sins germane to the proceedings (with, perhaps, one exception). That's a pretty odd situation given how often Jesus and others refer to and describe the Judgment.


The Mystical Bearmaster said...

Thank you, David

You seem to somehow bring the unverbalised thoughts at the back of my head to the fore.

We live in a world of God's order. For each sin there is still a consequence, even though we have been forgiven.


Coyote said...

Sometimes, I find it easier to forgive someone after they have learned their lesson. In some cases, I think that a person learns a lesson only when they learn that there is a consequence to their actions.

Now, one of the things that has always annoyed me about the depiction of the divine in the bible is that there are a few times where some person commits a sin, but their children or grandchildren end up suffering because of it.

But I do wonder, when these things happen in the bible story, is it actually God saying "because of what you did, I will make your children get boils and get crushed under big rocks" (okay, I made those up). Or it is more "Because you did this bad thing, you set things in motion in the world that I can tell you, will result in bad stuff happening to your kids years from now?"

Something people often don't seem to "get" is that the stupid things they do now do have an impact on other people - and often it is people who had nothing to do with the original "sin" who pay the price for our sins.

Example: A checkout clerk accidentally gives us change for a hundred dollars, when we handed them a twenty. If we don't return it, we probably don't go to jail, but the checkout clerk may lose their job, or have it taken out of their paycheck.

The divine being _I_ know often says things like "I'd love to explain it to you, but until you get it, you won't understand what I'm talking about."

I seriously doubt that God comes down and affixes a plague on a person when they sin. But our "sins" have consequences to ourselves and to others. Sometimes, these are obvious, and sometimes not.

But yes, I suppose I could get behind the idea that someone can be forgiven, but still have to pay a penalty.

Heck - bounce a check at the bank. If you pay back the bounce amount, plus a fine, they'll usually not cancel your account. You'll still be forgiven, but still have less money than you started with, if you want to continue banking.

I'm not a Christian - but the idea that forgiveness doesn't eliminate consequences should be obvious to everyone.

If a person runs over me with their car and I end up paralyzed, I might end up forgiving them, understanding whatever happened that caused the accident - but I'll still be paralyzed, and I'll still expect them to help me with my medical bills, and the state may prosecute them even if I do not. They may lose their license or go to jail, even if I have no hard feelings. I'll still suffer, even if I've forgiven them and hold no grudge.

Some people use the idea that they have been forgiven (by god, Jesus, a person, themselves), to mean "Whatever I did, it's all cool now." Sometimes it's not.

Forgiveness is a way to keep from permanently punishing/exluding someone for making a mistake. Any system that only works while everyone is perfect only works when everyone is God. Sounds lonely or stressful.

Forgiveness is there so that fallible systems or parts thereof can recover from error.

Forgiveness isn't a way of saying "It's okay you were a screwup," it's a way of saying "Despite the fact that you screwed up, we're going to assume you're not worthless, and let you try again, smarter for your experience."

Grant said...

AS I See It; "David's forgiveness was clearly due to confessing his sins, not due to faith" Daviv was confessing to God because he had Faith in God.

David Rudel said...

Grant, but David could have just as easily not confessed to God and still had faith in God.

But, in some sense even that is beside the point because, according to most evangelicals, it was not good enough to have mere "faith in God," but rather the faith "that counted" was "faith in a coming Christ," which obviously has nothing to do with David's confession.

qraal said...

Hi David

A forgotten point is David's attitude that by fasting & repenting he could change God's mind - his faith was that God might change his mind. A bit at odds with the God-image, that many have, Who determines it all from Eternity without reference to anything we do. All for His Glory (whatever that means.)

One is a God of Justice and Forgiveness, the other of Arbitary Absolute Power.

Anonymous said...

I have the same opinion with most of your points, however some need to be discussed further, I will hold a small talk with my partners and perhaps I will look for you some opinion shortly.

- Henry