Thoughts on the Gospel
First Sunday in Advent
Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways,
and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?
Fear God and give Him glory, for the hour of His judgement has come and worship Him who made heaven and earth.
The month of November has witnessed a public parade of moral turpitude involving figures sympathetic, Charlie Rose, unsympathetic, Harvey Weinstein, and political, who are said to have indulged in forms of official oppression in which they explicitly or implicitly required sexual favors in return for approval or advancement. Their victims, perhaps sometimes accomplices, are for the most part unidentified. None, as far as we know, were physically coerced, but each chose pliancy rather than courage, assuming of course that they were grown ups, morally competent and free. The preasuring of the young is another matter.
It is a story as old as David and Bathsheba, and as complicated. Bathsheba might have chosen some place out of sight of the palace windows for her bath. There was the circumstance that her husband was in the king’s service and resistance to the king’s wishes could hardly help his career. But the most powerful man in Israel had sent for her. The text assures us that it was springtime and that she was “very beautiful.”
There then followed deceit, duplicity, and murder, engineered by David, accomplished by the compliant Joab so that Bathsheba’s husband Uriah would die under the city walls at Thebez. And David assured Joab, “Do not let this trouble you for the sword devours now one and now another.” David’s desire had not abated; he waited until the period of mourning for Uriah had passed before he sent again for Bathsheba.
“The thing that David had done displeased the Lord,” who sent the prophet Nathan to tell David the story of the rich man who had a great flock and the poor man who had only one lamb, but a lamb he had brought up, who ate of his mosel and lay in his bosom. When, upon the unexpected arrival of an important guest, the rich man required a lamb, instead of taking one of his own he took the poor man’s one little ewe lamb. David, angered by Nathan’s parable, said that such a man should die, to which Nathan replied, “You are the man.” David was the man whom God had anointed king of Israel and given the place of his master Saul as well as Saul’s wives, and now this.
The deed done, God said to David though the prophet Nathan. “You have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite. . . . Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house” (II Samuel 12:11). Israel was punished with eternal warfare persisting still; the child born to Bathsheba, despite David’s seven days of perfervid prayers, died. But David repented. In that wonderful turn of grace which God bestows upon His people Bathsheba became the mother of the great king Solomon.
In so many ways the story of David is the story of Charlie Rose and Harvey Winestein, a story of weakness and sin, including the condemnation by the sinner of those who shared their sin. But they are different in many ways as well. After David despised God, he repented. Weinstein and Rose have regrets but they seem casually unconcerned that they have broken almost every commandment. Within the context of the public record, these sinners have not repented; as far as we are told, none went to confession although one went to the hospital and another to a twelve-step program. They did not recognize their obligation to the justice of God who created them, whose wrath, if it can be believed, is more to be feared than the disapproval of the entertainment culture.
The fear of God that enabled David to repent is the lodestar of the good and goodly life. Sometime ago it was decided, perhaps somewhere in the precincts of transcendentalism, that it is ungentlemanly and even unprogressive of God to threaten, for He is after all love in that modern spineless sense, which means that all of Paul’s talk about the wrath of God and all Our Lord’s teaching about the narrow way, everlasting darkness, and eternal fire was, basically, just sounds signifying nothing. Yet from Jonathan Edward’s great sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” to Pope Leo XIII’s 1890s addition to the rosary of the prayer that God will save us from the fires of hell, our Christian religion has taught us to fear God, not with servility, but with the realistic fear that the fallen creature owes the Creator and law-maker. Think about it. It really is possible that He is omnipotent and holy, and that nothing that is not pure will ever come into His presence.
Ignoring the facts is characteristic of a modern mindset driven by the philosophical detritus of the Enlightenment, which says that all things are not only equal but the same. As the complementary members of the human family God gave men and women the fundamental gifts of life in common, but to each He gave a defining characteristic for the good of the human family. Faculty senates and government committees may pass resolutions to the contrary into an indefinite future; there will be exceptions that challenge the pattern, but it will still be true that God’s gift to womankind is beauty opening upon marriage and motherhood and the care of that most valuable institution the household and to mankind the power that belongs to paternity and authority in the world. There are so many exceptions that the pattern may seem to disappear. All women are beautiful but in very different ways and the world is full of weak men, at least some of whom now wish to make a virtue of the effeminacy Paul condemns (I Corinthians 6:9).
And of course neither beauty nor power are the full measure of character. Women can prove more adept at the exercise of executive authority than men. But these fundamental defining characteristics, necessary but not sufficient, will remain. Beauty is to be managed with modesty, discretion, reserve, and refusal to give the gift until it can be given rightly; power with restrain, respect, and the awareness that sacrifice, duty, and discipline are the highest sign of authority. And all done in the fear of the Lord. Without that fear the incipient disorder that since Eden has inhabited relations between men and women will run free and we will have what we have got. And be it remembered that women who resisted the pressures of male importunity to the point of death, Saint Agnes, Saint Winifred, have been raised to the altars of the Roman Church. The destiny of their oppressors, unless by some miracle they were brought to repentance, is best left in its native darkness.
Finally there is this to be said. When the condemnations are complete, these men who now make the news, and the women who thought it best not to say no, deserve quiet sympathy, for, although we may have had despised God on different days in different ways, they, in the immortal words of Pogo, are us.