The Absolution and Comforting Words
By Father Wade Miller
There is a tragic, yet beautiful story recorded in chapters 11 & 12 of the book of II Samuel. The story concerns the well-known saga of David and Bathsheba. One day King David was walking out on the roof of his palace when he saw a beautiful woman bathing. David did not cover his eyes, nor did he look away from this beautiful woman; instead, he coveted and lusted after her.
We are told that David was a handsome man. As a matter of fact, David is described in I Samuel 16:18 as a skilled musician, a mighty man of valor, a warrior, a prudent and well-spoken king, and he was very handsome. Being a feared king, he was an individual who was used to getting what he wanted. David wanted Bathsheba. This good-looking, charismatic, and powerful man of elite stature got what he wanted. David slept with Bathsheba.
The problem is that he got more than he expected in sleeping with Bathsheba. This beautiful woman was now pregnant carrying David’s child. To add insult to injury, Bathsheba was married to another man, Uriah. Uriah was not just any ole man, he was a deeply devoted soldier to his king. Like something from a modern soap opera, David sought to cover his tracks. He had Uriah come home from battle so that he could get his devoted subject and soldier intoxicated with wine. The plan was to get Uriah drunk so he would then go home and sleep with his wife. David believed he would be off the hook and no one would ever know of his adultery with Bathsheba. The problem, however, was that Uriah was so devoted to his king, he would not sleep with his wife while faithfully fighting for his master.
After this plot by David failed, he planned a more sinister scheme putting Uriah on the front lines of battle. The planned worked! Uriah was killed and now David could simply take Bathsheba to be his wife. David’s dirty little secret could stay hidden. The great king of Judah had his woman, was expecting a new baby, and he got away with murder.
This sense of relief, however, was short-lived. David was approached by a pesky prophet named Nathan. Nathan told David a story about a rich man who possessed numerous flocks of sheep. But the rich man was not satisfied because there was a poor soul who had one little ewe lamb. This man of lowly means loved his little lamb. But the rich man had to have this poor man’s treasured lamb. In a great act of selfishness, the rich man took the little ewe lamb away from the poor man. David’s response to this story was one of outrage. David said that this rich man should die! Nathan then looked at David and said, “You’re the man!” (12:7). David was confronted with his sin.
Although this story is tragic, it ends on a good note. David realizes what he has done and pleads for forgiveness. David displays true contrition, remorse, and repentance for his evil actions. II Samuel 12:13 says, “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’” David does not play the victim or make excuses. He does not compound the problem by shifting blame or lying. He confesses his sin. Such remorse and repentance lead Nathan the prophet to proclaim, “The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.” David was restored to God and Nathan proclaimed the absolution from God. But David would suffer greatly for his treachery. The child conceived from David and Bathsheba’s adultery, died. David would have another son that mirrored him. But Absalom was rebellious and became an enemy to his father. He would also die a tragic death. David felt the pain he had inflicted on others because of his selfishness. But he was still a man after God’s own heart (I Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22) because he was repentant for his sins. Although David had to live with the consequences for his sinful actions, he was given absolution. This absolution came from the mouth and voice of the prophet, Nathan.
Likewise, we are promised absolution if we repent of our wickedness. Like David, we are to take responsibility for our actions. We are not to hide, rationalize, or make excuses for our sin. We are to confess our sin and God promises to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).
The absolution comes from God, but He uses the mouths and voices of men just as he did with Nathan. God has given bishops and priests to hear confessions from his people. They are to pronounce forgiveness to all who are truly remorseful and repentant. The Office of the Keyes is that authority bestowed upon clergy in apostolic succession to bind and loose on earth (Matthew 16:18-19; Matthew 18:18). Such men stand in the stead of Christ as did the original apostles (John 20:21-23). The purpose of confession is not punishment, but absolution and reconciliation with God.
In the liturgy, we have a General Confession of Sin and the priest or bishop pronounces absolution for those who like King David, come to God truly repentant. The absolution is a great source of comfort because God is the One who forgives. He uses his ministers as instruments to announce His forgiveness and absolution because our Lord desires to have mercy upon all. As Psalm 103:12-14 states, “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.”
The Church also extols private confession as well. Sin should not be hidden but dealt with, so that forgiveness and absolution can lead to reconciliation and healing. The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther said, “When I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian” (Large Catechism, Brief Exhortation, 32). Confession is a gift for the Church, and it is extolled as a sacrament because in the end, it gives the pardon and peace from God.
The peace that one receives is best explained in what follows the General Confession and Absolution in the Liturgy, called the Comfortable Words:
“Come unto me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16
“This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” I Timothy 1:15
“If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the perfect offering for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.” I John 2:1-2