There are so many Biblical heroes I want to pick fights with. Paul, first, with his rules about who can speak, and where. Second, any author who used the refrain “not counting women and children” (as in, “Then Jesus fed the hungry crowd, and there were about 5000 who ate, not counting women and children.” Why aren’t we counting them?). I’ve got trouble with Abraham, held up as an exemplar of faith in part because he was willing to take a knife to his own kid’s throat.
The character I struggle most with is King David: the “man after God’s own heart.” He’s the supposed author of Psalm 51, where the lectionary invites us to turn this Lent. He writes:
“Have mercy on me, God, according to your steadfast love…
Cleanse me from my sin!
I know my transgressions, my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned…”
And on and on. But I get stuck there. “Against you, you only, have I sinned.” Legend has it that this Psalm was written after the encounter with Bathsheba – he sent his men to kidnap her, he “took” her, he killed her husband, and the child she bore died. Don’t get me wrong: it seems a highly appropriate time for remorse, for confession. But “against you only” ?
Is there ever a sin that’s only against God? It’s hard for progressives to talk about sin – we tend to embrace a theology that’s life-giving, creation-affirming. But each day we witness violence and cruelty; we cheat our children and we silence our poor; those in power often seek to benefit only themselves and those without are often too tired to fight. And so we betray one another, even when we want with our whole hearts not to. What do we call that, if not sin? What do we do with it, if not confess?
I’m almost at the opposite end of the spectrum from David – I tend to think of all sins as against some specific – person, population, self, creation. I wonder, though, if his calling all sin against God might be expansive, instead of limiting – if it’s an acknowledgment that all life is sacred, all bears the image of the divine and so, all offense wounds God.
If so, then – I suppose I ought to confess that my eagerness to fight is an offense against David. And God.
Goodness. Lent is hard.