The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became very ill. David therefore pleaded with God for the child; David fasted, and went in and lay all night on the ground. The elders of his house stood beside him, urging him to rise from the ground; but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead; for they said, ‘While the child was still alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us; how then can we tell him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.’ But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, he perceived that the child was dead; and David said to his servants, ‘Is the child dead?’ They said, ‘He is dead.’ Then David rose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes. He went into the house of the Lord, and worshipped; he then went to his own house; and when he asked, they set food before him and he ate. Then his servants said to him, ‘What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while it was alive; but when the child died, you rose and ate food.’ He said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, “Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me, and the child may live.” But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.’ Then David consoled his wife Bathsheba, and went to her, and lay with her; and she bore a son, and he named him Solomon.
Whoever we are, and wherever we live, this is one of our worst nightmares – the death of a baby. To make things worse – if that were possible – Nathan the prophet has made it clear that this is David’s punishment. David is prostrate with grief hoping that God’s mind will be changed with enough contrition but the baby dies anyway. Actions have consequences and so David is responsible for one more death much closer to home than the deaths of those thousands he killed in battle.
We note that nowhere in this account is Bathsheba given a voice and we can only imagine …
But what sort of justice is that in any era? What God sanctions the death of a child for the sins of their parents? Is this the God of Love we are so keen to worship and promote?
How many times on a pastoral visit or just chatting with friends do we hear people say “ What have I done to deserve this?” Or “God’s really got it in for me for something like this to happen”. It seems to be ingrained in us that a vengeful God will bring about the worst in our lives if we don’t toe the line. As people Walking the Way of Jesus we need to challenge this gut reaction and give testimony to the transforming power of forgiveness which streams from the love of God and can extend between us too. Lives are changed, new ways of living are found and we are liberated from the paralysis of the mixing of guilt, fear and regret.
As we mourn with those who have suffered the searing, gut wrenching pain of loss of a child we remember It was the birth of a baby in Bethlehem that brought God’s love to reality in human form.
We pray alongside parents who mourn for their child. We pray alongside parents who welcome a new arrival. We walk alongside those bowed down by despair and pray that we all discover and rediscover the power of selfless love in Jesus Amen
The Rev’d Carole Elphick is a Retired Minister and is a member at Muswell Hill.
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