We Need to Talk About David

The Reproaches of Nathan to David.

If you are of a certain age, you can remember watching the wedding of Luke and Laura.  On November 16,1981, millions watched on their TV sets as the two characters from the ABC soap opera General Hospital were wed in holy matrimony.  Their relationship saved the soap from cancellation and the wedding episode made soap operas legitimate.

There was just one little fly in the ointment with this fairy tale courtship and wedding.  A few years prior to the wedding, Luke raped Laura.  The whole story is that a drunken Luke sexually assaulted Laura.  The writers had the two characters go through counseling and  Luke felt horrible.  I guess for the time period it was trying to take rape seriously, but in our era, there is no way this story would end up with a wedding.  But four decades ago, people loved this couple in spite of this horrible beginning.

I think about Luke and Laura and the rape because people have been talking about the biblical character of David.  David has been considered a “man after God’s own heart,” a person that wanted to serve the Lord.  We see a man who ruled during the “golden age” of Israel when the nation was united and strong. But we all know that David wasn’t perfect.  He made mistakes.  Found in the eleventh chapter of Second Samuel, we see the story of David and Bathsheeba which is usually portrayed as a torrid affair that resulted in a baby.  Since Bathsheeba was married, David needed to get rid of Uriah, Bathsheeba’s husband. David does get Uriah killed and he is then able to marry Bathsheeba and raise the child as his own.

That’s how the story was presented when I was a child.  However, the story is probably a lot more darker than we like to think.  This was less of an affair than it was a rape.  More and more scholars and pastors are tending to agree with this.  The passage doesn’t explicitly tell us this, but you can tell that it’s implicit.  Christianity Today has been rather bold in sharing a few articles on this new look on David.  The article by Kyle Worley leads with how many people are more comfortable with David being a murderer than a rapist. He writes:

Perhaps more intriguing than determining David’s motives is our own determination to spare him from disrepute. We don’t want David to be a rapist. We actually find it easier to stomach him being a murderer of a man than an abuser of a woman.

And, if the preponderance of sermons is any indication, Christians have historically been willing to slut-shame Bathsheba to keep any stink (beyond adultery) off of David. It’s nonsensical, particularly because in Scripture, Bathsheba is never accused, indicted, or even maligned in any way for what happened.

David, though, is not just another figure in the Bible. He is the “man after God’s own heart,” championed both as a heroic figure for young boys in Sunday school and the subject of Christian studies on manhood and masculinity.

The phrase we so often associate with the biblical king is not a blanket endorsement for David’s example, nor the idea that he represents what it means to be like God as a man. It means that David was God’s chosen man as king of Israel. John Woodhouse says this phrase “is talking about the place the man has in God’s heart rather than the place God has in the man’s heart.”

Scripture is full of broken people, and King David, for all his virtues, is a broken man. So why has this particular story become such a contentious one for us? I’m convinced that we don’t want David to be a rapist because we don’t want to reckon with the sin of abusive power.

It’s that last sentence I want to zoom in on.  Maybe he’s right that Christians don’t want to reckon with the sin of abusive power.  But I think the reason people are hesitant is because of something far more basic: you can’t look at David as a “good guy” in scripture and be a rapist at the same time.

Of course, you can be both.  But in our imagination, rape is an unforgivable sin.  It’s hard to say that David was a man of God and then talk about the time he raped a general’s wife.  A rapist is considered a foul being that no one wants anything to do with.  We can’t simply say David had a weakness.

Why did it take so long for Bill Cosby to face justice for assaulting women?  Because to admit that he did these things, it means we have to face the fact that America’s Dad, this legendary comedian was a no-good horrible motherfucker that deserved a horrible fate.

Whether it’s R. Kelly or Matt Lauer, we tend to “cancel” people that we learn have assaulted people (unless for some reason, they are in the White House). We want nothing to do with them. Rapists are viewed in black and white. There is no room for gray at all.

I am not advocating that we not look at the encounter between David and Bathsheeba as rape.  I think the case is strong. And I think for many women that have faced the horror of rape it means something that in our holy book someone was confronted of their crime. What I am saying is basically “now what?”  What do we do with David?  Worley wants to see this as an indictment of spiritual leaders.  But this has wider implications. It speaks about any man in some role of power.  Do we say David is still a good guy since he pleads for forgiveness from God?

There is a strong temptation to cover up David’s grievous sin.  But I don’t think you can, nor do I think you should. We need to have a clear view of David and what he did.  But the question remains: what do we do with David?  Do we “cancel” him?

Worley says that the Bible is full of broken people and David is no different.  True, but it is a leap of the imagination to equate brokenness with sexually assaulting a woman.  Committing genocide is also a sign of brokenness, but we don’t think of that as falling short of perfection.

I don’t have an answer to my own question.  It makes sense to see David as a rapist, but I struggle to figure out what to do with him now that we see him clearly.

The writers at General Hospital were able to turn a rape into some fairytale wedding between victim and perpetrator. When it comes to David, we can’t do that. We shouldn’t do that.


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