Parenting Absalom

Parenting Absalom

• Herewith a few reflections on the drama of David, Absalom, Amnon and Tamar, which can be found in 2 Sam 13-18. In short, Amnon is consumed with desire for his half-sister, Tamar. He forces himself on her, an act similar to David’s seduction of Bathsheba (2 Sam 11-12). Absalom, full-brother to Tamar, waits for David to bring Amnon to justice. When David fails to do so, Absalom kills Amnon to avenge his sister’s desolation. In the end, David loses two sons and nearly his kingdom.

• This is a rich and complex narrative so let me just say where I’m going, then I’ll explain a bit more. The way we raise our kids can easily be structured by events in our own past that function more like muscle-memory than conscious intent. The more traumatic the event, and the more it involves our own sin, the deeper the muscle-memory. The result is our kids become trapped by our own past, especially our past sin.

• At some level, David knows he is guilty of the same sin Amon commits against Tamar. This cripples him as an instrument of justice. So though he is angry with Amnon (2 Sam 13:12), he does nothing. Imagine the force of the fact that Bathsheba still lives in David’s household and is the mother of the future king (Solomon). Everybody, Absalom and Amnon included, knows David’s past. And David knows they know. As Shakespeare said, “Conscience doth make cowards of us all.” When Absalom finally takes matters into his own hands because of David’s negligence, disaster ensues.

• The mystery to me is even though David knows God’s grace and forgiveness, that grace does not structure his life with his children. The entire narrative falls chronologically just after Nathan’s confronting David with his sin (taking Bathsheba, killing her husband). And, if you remember, just after that confrontation David writes what we know as Psalm 51: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice” (vv.7-8). Psalm 51 exists because what David hopes to receive from God he does receive from God.

• Here’s the problem, and this is where David’s understanding of the grace of God falls short. He needs to admit, face-to-face with Absalom, his own failings, first with Bathsheba, and now with Amnon. And he needs to believe that the grace of God is so powerful that you can admit failure and weakness to your own children. But instead David stonewalls Absalom (2 Sam 14:24), Absalom’s heart grows hard, and the kingdom divides, just as many households are divided by equally proud parents.

• A parent is a kind of monarch, the ruler of a domain. It’s counter-intuitive for us, and hard on our pride, to fill that role in childlike honesty and humility. But the more we know the grace of God, the less we feel we have to believe in ourselves as monarchs. Our belief shifts from ourselves to God. Our lives become, for our children, mere pointers to the grace of God. As Tozer said, we become “in ourselves nothing; in Christ everything.” In the very beginning, or certainly by the time he returns to Jerusalem from exile, Absalom needs to stand in his father’s presence and hear him say exactly what he had said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” By that he would have shown Absalom, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps 51:17). That’s the moment where the Father, just as with the returning Prodigal, wraps his arms around us, and our children.