Not even kings are exempt from grief. Even if one could control a kingdom, have all the resources at their disposal, and a thousand people at their command – still, grief finds us.
King David, who provide us with both positive and negative pictures of how to live life – gives us yet another illustration. This one is a lesson of how to get through devastating grief and emerge on the other side with solid faith.
David’s greatest moment of humiliation took place when he took the wife of an Israeli soldier who was at war, bedded her while her husband was on the front lines, impregnated her, and attempted to cover it up by arranging her husband’s death. David then had his sin exposed by the prophet whom God sent to call him out.
Now David and Bathsheba are married, and she has born the son from their sinful union. David has repented and has come back to the Lord, but the child is gravely ill and dying, a direct judgment upon David by God.
As we get into this story, let me stress that the greatest amount of grief experienced in life is not the result of the direct judgment of God upon our individual actions. It’s true that all sin and death constitute God’s judgment upon sinful mankind from Adam onward, and as such, we all experience grief and loss in this life. It’s also true that God has shown at various times, just as in David’s life, that He may allow grief and misery to take place specifically because of individual sin. All grief and all loss, however, are not the result of our actions.
In New Testament times, Jesus was asked this very question:
“As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in Him.’” John 9:1-3
Clearly, tragedy and grief are not always caused by sin in our lives. But grief does happen, and we know it well.
There is a time where each of us will experience pain in this life. No one is exempt – not even King David. Give the Bible credit for telling real life stories where not everything seems to end well. It’s the ultimate real-life book, and David is going through real pain.
As David is confronted for his sin and repentance takes place, Nathan the prophet pronounces that the child will die. Nevertheless, David, who knows how to pray, begins to intercede for the child.
“David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground.” 2 Samuel 12:16
As all his household staff and counselors stood around him, trying to console him and attempting to sustain him with food, David simply would not give up on his child.
It is seven long days later that the child dies. and the servants are fearful to tell David, concerned that grief would overwhelm him and he’d take his own life. The text reveals the depth of their alarm. If his grief was intense at the beginning of this seven days, imagine how exhausted and beat up he is at the end.
David is doing the very best he can do – but he’s struggling.
I realize that some of you, reading of David’s grief, are reminded of your own. For you, it might be seven days – or even seven years that you carried that grief until you found relief, or the ability to bear it. For others, the grief has yet to end. In these seasons, so many feel alone. Often, grief triggers anger and bitterness. Some deal with the struggle by blaming themselves or others. Some blame God. Many lose balance between faith and reality.
It may be that you’re exhausted with grief, and you wonder where God is.
When we read this account of David’s grieving, we’re looking for moments when God steps in and speaks, or acts, or causes others to intervene. We want to see something, anything to show that He’s still in control. Yet, we don’t see that here.
We see a man walking by faith when heaven is silent. It often happens that way.
There is a time when you’ve done all you can do.
David did all he could do. His actions are very clear.
He confessed his sin to God. “I have sinned against the Lord.” 2 Samuel 12:13
As the confrontation occurred, David gradually owned his actions and confessed to God. This is an important part of our responsibility.
Still, even as he prays, David knew catastrophe was imminent. Nathan has pronounced the judgment to David in an unmistakable way. It’s the equivalent of a police officer at your door in the middle of a night. A nurse escorting you to a family room for a private conversation. A doctor giving you the verdict after surgery. The discovery of something you never imagined would happen.
Still, he interceded in prayer. “David therefore inquired of God…” 2 Samuel 12:16
He’d done all he could do.
By the way, it’s OK to grieve, to cry, to weep – you need that space. We need to give others that space in their time of grief, as well. Much as we dislike this “time,” it comes.
Solomon acknowledged this about life. “There is an appointed time for everything…. A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to mourn and a time to dance.” Ecclesisastes 3:1, 4 Of course we love the laughing and dancing, but the weeping and mourning are just as real.
Something common to all our painful experiences is the unanswered question we ask over and over of God or others, “Why?” When we cannot see the rationale of evil and pain, we yearn for some logical or theological answer to why it’s unfolding in our lives.
“If I could just know why, I could justify this horrible time in my mind,” we say.
Sadly, we rarely get the answer to the “why” question. It’s probably the wrong question.
Instead, ask, “What now?”
If God is not going to give me an answer to “why” and if I cannot reconcile my pain by reasoning or justifying it in some way, I need a next step. Hence, “What now?”
It’s a great prayer. “Lord, what do I do now? I’ve accepted this tragedy. What’s next?”
Keep in mind that we are not ready for this prayer unless we’ve done all we can do. Some never do come to God, never pray, never accept the facts we’re faced with. Those of us who do not do all we can do will never leave the scene of the crime. It will haunt us forever. We will waste our lives looking for revenge or resenting God for what we thought He should have done.
Yet, we’re told that taking revenge, exacting justice or fixing the wrong is not our job. The Bible repeatedly reminds us that God goes where we cannot go.
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Romans 12:18-19
If we’ll believe Him, God will go and exact revenge in a way only He can.
An acquaintance of mine who’d been sexually abused by his father growing up did all he could do to forgive and reconcile with his father, but the relationship simply could not be restored. The father was unwilling to face it. In grappling with this seemingly unfinished business, my friend had to come to the stopping point of realizing he’d done all he could do. God would have to do the rest.
This sense of injustice, of unreconciled relationships or situations that seem to call to us to do more will often make us restless. We cannot forget it. We worry. We look for open doors. We pray. It becomes our journey – a journey of walking wounded for many years.
However, if we know we’ve run to God, confessed any known problem in our lives, interceded for our loved one or the situation we face – if we know that – then we must accept that we’ve done all we can do. Our limitations have full stop moments. We are at a dead end.
But God is not finished. He’s not at a dead end. He never is.
There is a time when we must get up and go on.
Life won’t wait on the wounded. Life moves on past us if we don’t get up and go on.
During the ministry of the Old Testament prophet Elisha, an interesting story unfolds. The Aramean armies have camped around and besieged the city of Samaria and are starving its inhabitants. Four lepers sit outside the gates deliberating what to do. Finally, one says:
“Why do we sit here until we die? If we say, ‘We will enter the city,’ then the famine is in the city and we will die there; and if we sit here we die also. Now therefore come and let us go over to the camp of the Arameans. If they spare us, we will live; and if they kill us, we will but die.” 2 Kings 7:3-4
In other words, “We may die either way, but at least we’re making an attempt to live.”
They go into the enemy camp and find it deserted. Unbeknownst to them, God had caused the armies to become afraid in the night and they fled. These four lepers walked into an empty, yet fully stocked camp with all the food and drink they could imagine.
There’s a lesson here. It may feel bad at the moment, and we may not know exactly what the next day holds for us, but to remain in place, starving (or wounded) won’t help us either.
There’s a time to get up and go on.
To watch David move past his grief is inspiring. He takes four important steps that we can all take:
First, David looked within himself and found a place of acceptance. Having done all he could do for the child, he accepted the loss and grief, and took a step forward. He gets up off the ground where he’d lain, he washed and changed his clothes, and came into the house of the Lord and worshipped. In answer to his servants’ questions, he responded:
“While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may life.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” 2 Samuel 12:22-23
I cannot explain how one worships in grief, but I know it can be done. Part of it is simply realizing that we cannot control our world around us, and part of it is yielding to the God Who is in control. David worshiped after his child had died. Job worshiped after losing all ten of his children and all he possessed. Coming back begins with worship – where we say, “All I have is yours. I surrender all.”
Neither Job (who was guiltless) or David (who was guilty) questioned, resented or doubted God. They didn’t wallow in grief, nor did they rake themselves over the coals with blame.
Some who read this are victims with grief caused by another. You may be angry at those who perpetuated the pain you experienced. Remember, God will settle this one day in a just and fair and righteous way – a way you could never arrange. Trust Him.
You must come to accept that the pain is real, and that only God can bring justice.
Second, David looked behind him and found his place of responsibility. While he knew he was responsible for his sin – and the derailment his sin had caused - he also saw what God had done in his past to place him on the throne. He had people who depended on him, who looked to him for security and the welfare of the nation. While his sin had created doubt about his leadership, he found a way to address his failures while owning up to his responsibilities.
Third, David looked around him and found a place of ministry. “Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba…” 2 Samuel 12:24
The word here implies that David comforted her from deliberate and intentional effort to help. Though he knew he’d brought this on her, this wasn’t action from pity or grief. It was his attempt to help her get past the pain. When we reach out to others, it takes attention off our own pain. While it may still be present, it is muted by the ministry we give to others. It helps us find purpose in our sufferings. It helps us begin a cycle of hope instead of perpetuating the endless process of pain and misery.
Decades ago, I heard the message of a Viet Nam war veteran, Clebe McClary, who had been seriously wounded in battle. He returned home and began to rebuild his life and future with his wife, who’d waited for him through the time and damage of war. Noticing many veterans around him who were struggling to move on from the same things he’d faced, he created an acrostic to encourage them that they could overcome their past. The acrostic, FIDO, stood for “forget it, move on.” He talked about when speaking, he created a sign that emblazoned the acrostic on his vehicle, but he also lived it. FIDO was Clebe’s blunt way of saying to others, “We can do this. With God’s help, we can do this. Let’s go!”
FIDO has been constant reminder to me that we must move on. It also causes me to remember that there are people all around us who need to be encouraged to move on.
Fourth, David looked ahead and found a place of opportunity. “…and he went in to her (Bathsheba) and lay with her; and she gave birth to a son, and he named him Solomon.” 2 Samuel 12:24
Considering all they’d been through and all their relationship stood for, this is not just a casual recording of the facts. It is notably specific.
David is moving forward. From his repentance over his sinful actions to his surrender during a time of grief – David is doing his best to be faithful again. He’s determined to be faithful to God, to his wife, and to the future.
This is not the same man who lusted after Bathsheba and sent for her. David has changed. He’s now looking for the promise and opportunity God might still bestow on him, and he knew that to be in the next generation. Solomon, the son they eventually conceived, became the greatest and wisest of all kings. Solomon’s name means “peace, wellness,” and during his reign, God did amazing things that he would not during David’s reign.
During a time of peace, years before the encounter with Bathsheba, God had given David a promise. While David desired to build a temple for the Lord, God told him, “No.” God also told him that his son would build that temple.
“When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” 2 Samuel 7:12-13
David is pursuing that promise, and it’s only by the grace and forgiveness of God that it took place.
David’s part was getting up and going on.
Ron Dunn was a well-known Bible teacher in America during the late 20th century whose life encouraged many. His wasn’t an easy life. He was well acquainted with grief and heartbreak.
After one tragic season of life where he’d lost his own son to suicide, he returned to his congregation with an unforgettable message.
“All I’ve taught you from Scripture is true. I want you to know, I’ve been to the bottom, and the bottom is solid. When you get there, you’ll learn that His is a foundation we can stand on.” Ron Dunn
Somehow, God had allowed Ron Dunn to reach down deep, draw on God’s power, and come back from grief.
Somehow, many have walked the path of grief and inexplicable shock, found the way the reach down to a solid foundation, and began rebuilding.
David’s story tells you how.
Parenting is one of the greatest adventures of life! Kim and I have enjoyed more than three decades of being parents together, and now that our youngest is 26, we’re also moving into the season of grandparenting! It’s a fun time, and I’m surprised by how much conversation goes into what your new grandchild will CALL you. Here’s a newborn baby, and we’re all talking about what name we’re going to train her to call us. Like I said, “fun times!” Who knows what she’ll actually say!
If you’re a parent, you know the big truth that we’re pointed to in the Scripture. Here is it: “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6. What a great principle! This proverb in not a promise, but a great principle to live by in your task of parenting. Every good thing we do in the way of investing in our children will bear some kind of fruit in the years ahead - work ethic, responsibility, spiritual insight, or some other fruit.
When I was a young parent, in my zeal, I took this as a promise from God. I wanted it to be a guarantee, and we sure wanted to do our part. As Kim and I continued our journey of parenting, we were dedicated to be faithful parents who trained our children well. As we went along, however, we were reminded of another Scriptural principle - that each person (or child) has a free will and an individual responsibility to God.
When our children made adult decisions that were contrary to their training, we often asked “where did we go wrong?” It may have been the wrong question. No parent is perfect. Also, no parent can guarantee the result of their training. Instead, we learned to ask another question altogether.
Instead of second-guessing our parenting, we began to ask, “How will God personally work in my child’s life?” I’m convinced that’s the best question to ask and the best prayer to pray. Candidly, the way I pray for my adult kids these days is every bit as intense and focused as when they were little children.
Ultimately, the way God worked in OUR lives to reveal Himself and become very real to us is the same type of way He will work in THEIR lives. We must trust Him to do what we can never do.
Ultimately our confidence can never be in our performance as parents but in His capability as God of the universe.
Occasionally, you become familiar with an individual or family that has experienced generational family trauma or abuse in their lifetime, but were able to forgive those who hurt them - and chart a new course for their own family.
These are huge seasons that influence the future with grace and victory - and leave you saying, “Only God.”
I saw this unfold in a big way recently, and was able to say, “only God” with that individual. This person was raised in an environment where he saw both the best and worst in parents. One parent was amazingly patient, kind and supportive, while the other was angry, abusive and spiritually dark. The kids had quite a lot of forgiving to do - and many harmful, evil examples to overcome. Over the years, they saw a pattern tracing back several generations and began to understand the curse that had to be overcome.
But overcome they did! In the middle of this story is a loving, faithful God who walked them through every step of forgiveness, release and the finding of purpose in the midst of chaos. This is something “only God” can do.
The after-story: Instead of abuse and anger, there is grace and kindness. Instead of regret and remorse, they are passing down light and purpose and love. The One who was able to accomplish all this? Christ - in them.
Future generations are blessed when we break the curse of sin in our lives and in our family and purpose to pass on the grace and love of the gospel.
God really does make all things new.
Thoughts from John Meador and insights from God's Word.