I will never forget that day, it is graven into my heart for all my mortal years until I am done forever with the cares and battles of this world. It was the day when I re-discovered shame and guilt, and realised that God’s favour and blessing did not mean that everything I chose to do would be blameless in His sight. I was exposed, I was undone, and the truth of my folly, my presumptuous, sinful folly, was a sword through my heart and ashes in my mouth. And in my foolish arrogance I had had no idea; or, for I must be strictly truthful now, I had chosen to have no idea.
It all began innocuously enough. The prophet Nathan was welcomed into my presence, as he was always welcome who spoke on the Lord’s behalf, and he proceeded to tell me a story about a rich man, a poor man and a sheep. I assumed it was a case of injustice in the land that he wanted me to respond to, and, as I listened, I grew angry. This case was a travesty of all that God had called us to in his covenant, an action without justice or pity. A rich man, with herds and flocks to spare had a guest, and instead of taking one of his own beasts to slaughter to feed the stranger, he had helped himself to the ewe lamb that was the poor man’s only possession. How dare he do such a thing in God’s Israel! Dearly would he pay for such a transgression! I did not know that I was passing sentence on myself.
Then came the moment that is seared in my memory, the moment when Nathan raised his hand, pointed his finger at me (me, the king!) and said, “You are the man!” I looked at him aghast – what was he talking about? I hadn’t stolen any sheep! But as he continued, each word pried open my foolish blind heart, exposing the truth of my actions. Like the rich man in the story, I had plenty, riches in abundance – and wives! Yet I had helped myself to the wife of the loyal Hittite without a second thought, and then, when the inevitable happened and she fell pregnant, I had connived at his murder to hide my shame. But the very Lord whom I claim to love with all my soul does not conspire with deeds of darkness, or condone injustice or the oppression of the poor. The very deeds I had buried in secret to assuage my guilt were now announced before the whole court in the garish light of day, and by my own response I had declared myself guilty, a man of injustice and covetous lust.
I felt the inevitable rush inside me to deny my sin, to condemn my condemner, but what would have been the point? In the eyes of God I was condemned, and there is no darkness black enough to hide my sins from him, and to be adrift from God is to be adrift from life itself. All my conniving, my scheming, my evil compounded upon evil to hide the truth, were revealed in that moment in all their pathetic horribleness. I, who had seen myself as the king who was more godly than Saul, was now revealed to have sinned in ways which Saul never had. But this was no time to luxuriate in shame, as if my sin had let me down and besmirched me. In that moment I understood, as never before, that my sin was myself, those decisions that led me into such a path of evil came from motives that were laid bare in my heart – motives of entitlement and self-exaltation. The only thing left was to cry to God for mercy, knowing, even as I did so, that His mercy was already for me. He knew my sin before I did, and, broken with contrition, I marvelled that His love had never left me and never would.