There was once an artist who messed up badly – and I mean very badly. But despite his failures, some incredibly good things happened through him and he made some of his most beautiful art out of the experience. How did this happen after such horrific personal failure, and how can the same happen for us?
This artist messed up. But GOOD.
First, he slept with another man’s wife while her husband was off putting his life at risk trying to help the artist out. (Seriously!)
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the artist discovers he’s knocked up the woman and tries to trick her husband into coming back to have sex with her to cover up what he did. But her husband? He’s a good dude. He just doesn’t feel right about enjoying a conjugal visit with his wife while some of his friends are still out risking their lives for the sake of the artist.
This foils the plans of the artist, so he decides to murder the woman’s husband. It’s the only way to get away with what he’s done, after all. But he’s smart about it. He doesn’t just go over to the guy’s house and kill him in cold blood.
Instead, he sends the husband back to where he was risking his life for him, but makes his position even MORE dangerous than it was. And just to make sure this ends the way he wants, he tells the husband’s friends to leave him there by himself. So, just as the artist planned it, the husband dies.
After the woman finishes mourning her dead husband, the artist forces the woman to marry him and she gives birth to a son. The artist relaxes at this point, thinking he’s gotten away with it: all the adultery, lies, and murder…
But he’s wrong.
One of his friends discovers what happened and confronts him about it, and the artist realizes just how much he messed up. I mean, he really gets it. The guilt is just absolutely consuming him. How could it not, based on what he did?!
But that’s not where his story ends.
You might have recognized the artist in this story as King David, as told in the second book Samuel wrote in the Bible. David was a powerful king and artist (harpist, composer, and dancer!) who is described as a man after God’s own heart. But then THIS happens. He has sex with a soldier’s wife, Bathsheba, and then sends him out to the front lines of war by himself so that he dies. And when he finally admits to himself and his friend what he’s done, he’s absolutely wracked with guilt.
You probably (hopefully!) haven’t murdered anyone in your life. But I bet you know the feeling of deep guilt. That feeling of knowing that you’ve failed; you’ve messed up; you’ve hurt other people or yourself and you can’t change the past. I know I have! These feelings can come up both in our artistic pursuits and our general lives and can be absolutely debilitating.
How do we move forward after something like this happens? Is there a way to regain hope and still be a positive force in the world – and I mean to actually have and be those things, not just ignore and try to forget what happened? Is there even a chance that the horrific things we’ve done could be redeemed into beautiful art?
The end of David’s story answers these questions with a resounding yes!
After his friend Nathan confronts him, David admits the terrible truth of what he’s done. He doesn’t try to make excuses. He doesn’t point fingers at others who have done worse things than him. He just says, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13). He admits it.
God’s response is even more amazing. Nathan tells David, “the Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die” in the same verse. There were consequences for what he did, of course. God decides that as a result, Bathsheba’s baby is going to die, and he does. Both David and Bathsheba then grieve tremendously for their lost child. There must have been deep consequences for his relationship with Bathsheba, as well. The Bible reports that she mourned for her husband when he died. What was her relationship like with the man responsible for his death?
And yet, God tells David “you shall not die.” How many of us feel like our life is over when we’ve made a big mistake? That we can’t possibly come back from what we’ve done? But God’s promise to David is still a promise for us: “you shall not die.” The God and creator of the universe is never-changing. Even when we mess up, he remains good to us.
And God doesn’t stop with a physical promise of saving David from death. He also keeps the promise he made to David way back in 2 Samuel chapter 7:
“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.”2 Samuel 7:12-13
After the Bathsheba debacle, we might expect God to change his mind about this…after all, David basically just spat in God’s face by going against his laws in such an egregious way. And wouldn’t that be our knee-jerk response if a beloved friend murdered someone we loved and had sex with our partner? But God isn’t like us. God doesn’t take back his promises because they’re not dependent on how “good” we are. He even works through our failures: the son God chose to rule after David was another son he had with Bathsheba! The very woman he committed adultery with! I want to emphasize that what David did was horrifically wrong and there were consequences for his actions. But God also worked through and past David’s mistakes to bring good into the world through his son: none other than King Solomon himself. As if that wasn’t enough, God also decided to make David his great-great-great-great-etc. grandfather, as well, since Jesus was his descendant! God not only forgave him, but decided to make him family. Wow.
So what can we learn from David’s story?
1. We have to be honest about our failures.
What do you think would have happened if David said to Nathan, “you don’t know what you’re talking about!” and ordered him killed? He could have easily done it since he was the king. But instead, David says, “you’re right.” And that was the first step to receiving God’s promise that he wouldn’t die. We might fail in a moral way like David by doing something that hurts another or ourselves, or we might just have a bad performance or take the wrong class or forget to attend a meeting. But however we mess up, it’s okay (and even necessary) to admit that it happened. This is the first step to allowing God to work through us for good.
2. We have to turn to God.
You can’t just admit to yourself that you’ve messed up: you have to take it to God. Remember: you’ve never failed so badly that God doesn’t want to hear from you; help you; or love you. David might have felt like God had given up on him, but instead we get Psalm 51:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a right spirit within me.”Psalm 51:10
In this song that David composed (which I highly recommend you read in full!), he admits to God that he messed up, asks for forgiveness, and asks God to make him whole again. That’s it! There’s no punishing himself. There’s no defeatism. There’s just deep sorrow over what he’s done, a desire to make it right, and a recognition of the only One who can make it right.
And if God could forgive and still work through David after he committed adultery and murder, how much more do you think He can work through you when your art doesn’t sell or you miss a dance step?
3. Your life is never over.
No matter how poorly a performance went, no matter how much you wanted that job, no matter how selfishly you’ve acted, your life is never over. Not because we can pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and make it right ourselves, but because God is so much bigger than us and it’s HIM who is making our life into something beautiful and good. The fulfillment of God’s promise to raise up David’s son and ultimately Jesus to rule with love and mercy shows us that because it’s GOD’S plan for our lives, He can (and will!) still bring it to fruition.
4. God can take your mistakes and turn them into beautiful art.
“Have mercy on me, O God,
According to your steadfast love;
According to your abundant mercy
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin! …”Psalm 51:1-2
Psalm 51 is one of the most well-known, heart-wrenching, and soul-enhancing songs David ever wrote. While we should obviously never do evil or fail so that we can make better art, God can turn our failures into something pure and good.
That’s some good news, folks!!
God, thank you SO much that You love us no matter what. Right now, I admit that I’ve messed up. More specifically, I feel guilty about _________. Will you forgive me if I need forgiveness and remind me that my life isn’t over? I believe that You still have a good and perfect plan for my life. Please create in me a clean heart, God, and renew a right spirit within me. I trust you and need you for this. Thank you so much for your goodness and mercy.
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PC: Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash; Muhmed El Bank on Unsplash; Danie Franco on Unsplash; Jacob Bentzinger on Unsplash; Jeremy Yap on Unsplash