The following passage stood out to me loudly a few nights ago. Taken from the book I’m currently reading, Mennonite in a Black Dress, by Rhoda Janzen. Such an interesting take on the story of David and Bathsheba. And an important lesson for me on dealing with bitterness in the world in which I live. I was so tempted to go with an alliteration for the name of this blog entry: Bitterness, Bathsheba and Boldness – but decided that was a bit too kitschy for my taste -ha
…I especially don’t want to end up like one of those bitter divorcees who can’t forgive their exes. I know a woman who is still holding on to her feelings after twenty-two years! Self-pity has hardened her face; even her eyes seem wary behind their Botox, like children peeking out of an empty house. This woman’s world has been steadily shrinking, and now it’s the size of a martini glass. What she wants to talk about after all these years is how badly her husband treated her two decades ago. But her ex-husband has spent his twenty-two years learning and changing and growing. He has tardily become a good father and loving partner while she keeps injecting her syringe of paralysis into the same wrinkle, over and over and over. Are there not other ways to process hurt than through the lens of our own victimization and anger?
There’s a sad suicide story I remember from Sunday School days. A guy named Ahithophel gave King David some wise advice that the king ignored. Ahithophel was a big cheese in the world of political counseling, sort of like a Condoleezza to the king. Ahithophel had a sex bomb of a granddaughter, and she looked even better naked. The sex bomb granddaughter was named Bathsheba. In a nutshell, Ahithophel’s advice to the king was: Back off Bathsheba. And P.S., Your Highness, don’t go murdering Bathsheba’s husband just so you can boink her. King David weighed this advice very carefully, but, being king, he chose to ignore it. This is a political pattern we sometimes see among presidents of large capitalist nations.
On the one hand, there was advice from a counselor who had proven trustworthy over the years. On the other hand, there was Bathsheba’s really luscious bottom. When King David made his choice, Ahithophel tried to hatch a desperate but lame plot to kill him. Ahithophel even volunteered to murder King David himself. We nod at what comes next: yup, sometimes convoluted military coups have a way of backfiring. When the plot to overthrow the king failed, Ahithophel went home, put his house in order, and hanged himself.
Here’s the punch line. We are told several times that poor Ahithophel was a godly counselor. Whenever he spoke, “it was as if God were speaking through him.” What was a godly counselor doing plotting murder and treason, even if he had a good reason? Even if he was hurt, grieving for his beloved granddaughter?
I think the answer is best phrased in the form of another question, as on Jeopardy. Who knows? Who knows how we can be both good and bad, both hurt and hurtful? The answer is that none of us knows how. None of us knows why. All we can agree on is the fact that the human condition is constituted by wild vacillations between altruism and nefarity, between kindness and cruelty. One moment we’re opening our hearts and our wallets to hurricane victims; the next we’re torturing prisoners of war and laughing about the photographs with our friends.
I used to think that virtuous people, for instance nuns, or even my mother, existed as a kind of Darwinian opposite to pederasts and serial killers. I suspected nuns were the recipients of a genetic gift basket featuring predetermined goodness, in the same way that some folks seem blessed with a natural aptitude for drawing in charcoal. Then, in addition to the genetic gift basket, the stars aligned in a confluence of beatitude, causing environmental forces to help out.
But I have come to believe that virtue isn’t a condition of character. It’s an elected action. It’s a choice we keep making, over and over, hoping that someday we’ll create a habit so strong it will carry us through our bouts of pettiness and meanness.
My predetermined gift basket was sarcasm. I’m sure of it. I’m also sure it was as genetic as anything else. And so my reaction to being hurt or seeing any of the people I hold dear hurt, is to retaliate. Sometimes it’s verbally. Sometimes (and this is where it is much more dangerous), the retaliation is in my head. My mind plots revenge. My mind argues with such grandiose articulation that even the strongest enemy would fold under my tirades.
How much more difficult is it for me to make the choice – the conscious effort – to choose to forgive. To choose virtue over revenge?
The answer? Very.
Very, very, VERY difficult.
But in the end, it doesn’t boil down to whether or not it is my tendency to be virtuous.
My personality bent doesn’t matter.
To have virtuous reactions to illogical actions, is my choice.
Just as it was the bitter divorcee’s choice.
Just as it was Ahithopel’s choice.
Just as it was David’s choice.
Living a virtuous life is not about what comes natural to us; but rather, about what purposeful steps we choose to take. And thus developing the habits we take into the future.