Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 13, 2010
2 Samuel 11:26—12:10, 13-15
This story from Second Samuel is remarkable in many ways. The courage and cleverness of the prophet in confronting the king. The king’s repentance and public confession. Both Nathan and David are justly remembered for this extraordinary moment, when a king met the word of the Lord.
But that poor little baby boy. It seems very unfair that the father’s sin results in the child’s suffering and death. I wish he had a name.
This story has caused no small problem for theologians. This infant child stands with Job, their stories bearing witness against facile answers to questions of God’s goodness and righteousness. “The Lord has forgiven you, and you won't die. But your newborn son will” (2 Sam 12:14, CEV). The sinner is forgiven and escapes with his life. Yet the innocent child sickens and dies.
We may wish that scripture eased our distress, by providing a word of comfort, or at least some more attention to the child.
People have tried to find that resolution, to get God off the hook for what just does not seem right. Some have said that the child’s death was necessary because the child was conceived through sin. And that it would have been intolerable for a child conceived in this way to rule the nation. Yet “conceived in sin” is something known by all the offspring of Adam.
Others have pointed to the child’s death and David’s distress (2 Sam 12:16-17), as God inflicting upon David a punishment more severe than David's own death. This may be so. But this avoids the problem of the suffering inflicted upon the young child.
Some take refuge in the mystery of God’s wisdom and goodness, in ways that will be familiar from our own funeral home conversations. We have no way of knowing what suffering the child would have experienced (or evil they might commit) had he lived. So perhaps God was being merciful. And trusting in God’s goodness in the promise of eternal life, we may say “He is in a better place.” The voice of faith is bold to step in where scripture is silent.
This may be no more satisfying than the ending of the book of Job in answering questions of God’s fairness. But perhaps the best we can do with such a troubling story is to look for faithfulness in the midst of brokenness.
And there is at least one more place where faith may speak in this story. This little baby boy, this innocent lamb, reminds us of another. Like this little one, Jesus of Nazareth bore the consequences of others’ sin. Both their lives were part of the unmasking of sin and the holy call to repentance. Both suffered and died unjustly. There is a common bond between these two sons of David.
And if the Jesus we know through faith is real, this innocent little baby is truly redeemed. This early son of David is in fact, a figure or forerunner of the Christ. I think his name must be Yeshua – Jesus.
This text, with additional resources, is available at the American Bible Socity's Bible Resource Center, http://www.americanbible.org/content/pdf/EBulletin3AfterPentecost_C_Cycle2__6_1_916.pdf.