Nietzsche said “if you stare into the abyss too long, the abyss stares back at you.”
Today’s post features a man who stared into his own abys-mal heart and knew at once his hellish iniquities were taking hold of him.
Being a politician with a mistress is nothing new (blue dress, Oval Office, anyone?). The litany of world leaders who either hid their extramarital pleasures or openly flaunted them is uncomfortably legend. While some presidents preferred blondes, only a few went so far in the cover-up to commit murder. That we know of.
But there’s one whose abysmal act we know, every sordid detail. He wasn’t some unregenerate despot, or a power-mad, sex-starved tyrant either. He’s the storybook country bumpkin who made good, largely because his heart so eloquently spoke the native tongue of the better angels of our nature. His folkloric life as pure as poetry and flawless in character captured the love and imagination of a nation.
Until the fateful day his office took a backseat to his libido, that is. Until that twilight hour he coerced a young married woman into satisfying his unchecked lust, the power of his position leaving her with almost no choice. Then, as the age-old story of “could see that coming” goes, got her pregnant. All of it, every spiral stair descending, leading him to the psychopathically illogical tidying-up of ridding himself of his rival, his friend – the innocent, faithful, endearingly noble husband. Poor man is murdered without ever really knowing why. Ironically, the culprit will himself write in his own memoirs about being betrayed by a close ally, a companion, a friend once upon a time. I wonder if he thought back to his own treachery.
James 1:15, The Message
Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby: sin! Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer.
No, this isn’t some Hollywood script, but rather ripped from the ‘more harrowing than fiction because it’s true’ archives.
Remember, this is a good man.
A military hero.
A prolific statesman.
His tenure as a global leader is the standard by which many others have themselves governed.
And yet this startling figure holds a very, very dark secret. His interior universe is as black as pitch and he will come face to face with it in the aftermath of one of history’s most courageous interventions. So far, only three people know of the deed: the offender, the woman, and the man responsible for carrying out the murder.
But there’s a fourth.
And it is this man who is tasked with the unenviable responsibility of approaching this unhinged, unpredictable, unsafe potentate in the privacy of the ruler’s own fortress to accuse him of these federal crimes. He had insider information and it was time to tell it – some nine months removed from the scandal.
Nine months, give or take. The perp has to be feeling the coast is clear and the proverbial dust has settled, surely. To confront him now is the most dangerous thing a subservient can do, albeit a spiritual adviser. Still, bearing the burden of a Higher Mandate, the man entered the king’s quarters.
And spun a yarn.
And raised the ruler’s blood pressure.
And blind-sided the man.
If you’re keeping score at home this is all eleven and twelve chapters into the Old Testament book of (as The Donald might say) Two Samuel.
The universe is stopped dead in its tracks.
The future of the dynasty hangs in the balance.
(Not to mention, the future of the man in front of the king is in question.)
The next words out of King David’s mouth saved the day:
“HAVE MERCY ON ME, O GOD!” (Psalm 51:1)
I believe the fifty-first psalm happens in the immediate aftermath of this divinely-enacted confrontation, before the baby’s illness, David’s fasting, and the newborn’s tragic death. Likely, this is the dark night of the soul that David must go through on the very night of his exposure.
There are many things that strike me about this stanza, about the despair, shame, and bloodguiltiness of the ‘found fugitive’ and the language of his tortured heart, but none more revealing than what he journals in verse ten. David cries,
“Create in me a clean heart…”
The word he chooses is used in the opening stanza of the Bible, yea, the opening line. What follows is a chaotic, unformed earth, swirling with torrid energy and untamed sea; darkness nests there. Brooding over the surface of the cataclysm is the Spirit of God…
When David’s smothered cry erupts from this refrain, he is begging Elohim to do in him what the Trinity did then: a 7-day creation-remedy of order to his own chaos, life to his death, light to his darkness, reproduction to his infertility, regeneration to his impotence, Immanuel to his isolation, harmony to his dissonance, hope to his despair, and restoration to the mess he’d made of everything and everyone.
And he needed it all in that very hour, not 168 hours, or epochs, or eons.
The thing about the creation week is that it begins with Light and ends with Rest. The Light spoken of is not simply ‘daytime’ but rather a supernatural Light akin to ‘shekinah’, the glow on Moses’s face, and the First and Final Light that is alone necessary to irradiate Heaven.
David imagines his own soul as no different from the bleakness of Genesis 1:2. His interior universe is devoid of supernatural Order and Presence and his worlds are spinning out of control. Stability is lost. It’s a felt darkness and such darkness has spread its tendrils everywhere and his heart has become haunt for jackals and demons. Break through, O God! Daystar, come penetrate the blackness of my heart! Remove the veil that separates! (day one)
The polluted king needs his oily atmosphere to get a true spring cleaning and fetch the precious moisture of heaven so he can breathe in its oxygen again (day two).
He seeks evidence of life – nothing he can manufacture himself, mind you, but the seedlings of grace that grow from the regenerated soil of his heart, much like the “hair of Samson’s head [which] began to grow again” (day three).
In David’s personal (re)creation week, he longed for motion and cycles to begin again, the sensation of ‘getting off the schneide’ and propelling forward, as the pages of an ever-turning calendar, rather than the stultifying paralysis of living under the weight of what he’d done (day four).
That long, dark night of the soul brought dreams of (dare he hope) the dance of life returning: the playfulness of being in the Creator’s heart and in harmony with His plan, enjoying the variegated pleasures of Elohim’s imagination, the teeming throngs of accessible mercies that populate and thrive in the geography of his private world, and the fulfillment of a blessed life (day five).
The sixth miracle (in his ‘Genesis-week’) for which the penitent king cries is for the dignity and integrity of his soul to find its renewal so intimacy with the Almighty can be restored. He misses the ‘uprightness’ of standing in the Presence of his Creator, re-imaging himself not as an earthly king but a Kingly man, fully under the reign of Another (day six).
Then, and only then, can this storm-tossed king with undefended heart know real shalom (“the Bible’s shorthand term to describe a flourishing creation, a[n inner] world that realizes everything that God desires for it.”1) and soul-rest: at peace within and fully reconciled on all sides…but especially to his True North from whence his being comes (day seven).
What David did was no light thing, and what he asked was no light thing either. He asked for the same power and authority (and will) of Elohim that occurred in Genesis One for all corners of endless galaxies in His creation to come to bear for himself. Such a thing would require an epic response to the void and darkness he had inflicted on his own heart.
I’ll go you one better.
The travesties of David’s sin took place in – give or take – a week’s time, from lustful compulsion to murderous cover-up. He asked for a God-week to mercifully rectify his mess.
What you and I came into this world as co-conspirators of and complicit in was far more than a human’s weeks’ worth crime spree, but an eternity of treason against God. Such a mutinous charge required a Lamb to be chosen and (in the Godhead’s mind) “slain before the foundation of the world”2 – in eternity past!
Think then on this: we needed our own God-week to reconcile and rectify our own account, but not a Genesis One week. We needed a Gospel Week that went from Sunday to Sunday, from presentation as the Passover Lamb through to inspection as blameless, slain on the most holy altar, then raised to overcome sin, death, and hell.
Hopefully you and I will never be in a position as David to be so bereft and bankrupt we have to beg God for a Genesis One Week in a single hour lest we die. But know this: if we ever do, there is no sin greater than God’s grace and the mercies of God are more eager to forgive and restore than we are even desperate to ask. And sometimes, the way forward is to go back.
Bask in this, beloved: from supernatural Light to eternal Rest, you are loved.
1 James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love, p. 48
2 Revelation 13:8