From Lament to Repent

My church is using “Lament” as the theme for worship this Lenten season. I wrote the following piece as one of the daily devotions for this Lent.

Most of the times I lament it is because of something painful or unjust (at least in my mind) that has happened to me or someone I care about.  But recently I had an experience that reminded me that sometimes laments can also lead to confession of something wrong I’ve done or a good thing I failed to do. 

I am part of a group from our church that is studying a book called “Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation” by Latasha Morrison.  We’ve just read and discussed the first chapter so far, but Morrison has already challenged me with some provocative and uncomfortable questions at the end of Chapter 1.  For example, “Have you studied the history of non-White cultures in America and how those cultures came to be here?  If so, what books and articles have you read and what videos and documentaries have you watched about the history of those cultures prior to their forced migration?”  I am embarrassed to admit that my answers to those questions were very short.

That experience reminded me of one of my favorite stories in the Hebrew Scriptures (II Samuel 12) where the prophet Nathan confronts King David with his sin in taking Bathsheba from her husband Uriah in a most diabolical manner.  Nathan approaches David with a parable about a rich man who takes his poor neighbor’s sheep instead of killing one of his own large flocks for a big dinner party.  David of course recognizes the injustice and says, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”   And Nathan simply says to David, “You are the man!”

I like that story because I’ve always seen it as someone else getting his or her comeuppance, but this time the shoe was on the other foot. Through reading this book I heard God clearly saying to me “Steve, you are the man!”  It took my laments over the systemic racism that has infected our American history for 400 years and how I have blamed others for that horrible injustice and held a mirror up to my own guilt.   So now I can lament my own failure to do more to address this critical mistreatment of God’s beloved children of color. 

The hope in that process is summed up this way in “Be the Bridge:”  “I have seen awareness lead people out of denial and ignorance, into lamentation, and ultimately into racial solidarity.”

SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER

I wrote a prayer two days ago asking God to make the Coronavirus a “come to Jesus” moment of conversion for President Trump.  It was a bigger long shot than betting on the filly that beat all the males in last week’s Preakness Stakes.  And now my prayer goes in the “Prayers not answered Yet” file.  Unfortunately the President emerged from the hospital even more reckless and arrogant than before.

This situation reminded me of one of my favorite texts from the Hebrew Scriptures in 2nd Samuel 12 which begins: “And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” 5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6 he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”

Somehow Nathan drew the short straw and was tapped to go speak truth to King David.  It was risky business, and Nathan knew he could not confront David’s sin directly.  That would only make the King defensive and maybe so vindictive that he might kill the messenger instead of hearing God’s message.  So Nathan uses an indirect approach through a story to get by David’s defenses.  And the story works.  David recognizes immediately the guilt of the villain in Nathan’s story.  He has taken the bait and Nathan delivers the punch line, “You Are the Man.”

And then immediately Nathan reads the riot act to David for what he has done: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; 8 I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.”

If you want all the gory details of how God will punish David they are delineated in verse 11 and following.  What does this old story about speaking truth to power say to us today regarding our current president’s behavior?  Is there anyone who could speak to Donald Trump through a story or in any way to convince him of how his mishandling of the pandemic for months has stolen freedom, life and livelihood from millions of Americans?  Could anything inspire any regret or compassion in the President for the 210,000 American lives lost to COVID?  Can any voice break through his selfishness and greed for power in such a way that he can understand that millions of Americans are grieving the loss of loved ones and/or suffering the lingering damage of COVID to their bodies, perhaps for the rest of their lives?  Is there a prophet anywhere in Washington that can convince Mr. Trump that trying to take health care away from millions of Americans in the midst of a pandemic is cruel and inhumane? 

As the old saying goes, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  So I am very pessimistic that anything can deter Donald Trump from pursuing his re-election without any regard for who he may infect in the White House or at any of his dangerous campaign rallies.  He has made the White House a hostile work environment for the very people who serve him most closely and protect him. 

But here’s the difference between the President and King David.  David is capable of feeling guilt and remorse, of taking responsibility for the consequences of his evil actions. So far Donald Trump has shown no evidence that he is capable of such normal human emotions.  I continue to pray that God can change the President’s heart before he does any more harm to more Americans.  And for those who still cannot see through Trump’s dangerous propaganda, and for those who lack the courage to speak truth to his power, I continue to pray for ears to hear truth, for discernment and courage to realize that all of us are the ones who stand in need of God’s grace and the ultimate truth than can set us free.