I was a young teen when the pastor of the church we attended had an affair and diverted missions funds to the local building project. I was shocked to learn that Christians aren’t perfect, that they sin in big ways, and that even Christian leaders fall. In Lorita Boyle’s novel, Bathsheba’s Lament, a woman of ancient Israel struggles with disillusionment when her spiritual leader—a man she admired, whose position she respected, a family friend whose music moved her to worship the Lord God—rapes her and has her husband killed.
This is a different take on the David and Bathsheba story. It is not a tale of illicit love or even seduction. It is the story of a Christian leader who wanders from his commitment and the pain his sin causes others. Today we put Christian singers and worship leaders (like King David) on pedestals. We expect pastors to be biblical scholars, eloquent speakers, attractive to the youth, and have model families. Oh, yes, and don’t forget hospital visitation and free counseling when I am going through deep waters. We make huge demands on their time and attention and then click our tongues when their families falter, their marriages fall apart. Media are quick to pick up failings that would not be news in a secular person, but expectations for Christian leaders are much higher. The Bible tells us as much.
Boyle's Bathsheba laments, “Every time I begin to sing one of David’s songs, I see his face again, feel the pain.... All my life I’ve sung the songs of our king, and been comforted by them. I’ve taken up my lyre or danced with tambourine in hand, rejoicing in our God. Even when I’ve fallen on my face before God in reverence and awe, I’ve quoted David’s words. And now his words feel as barren as I once was, and I find myself silent before God except to plead for mercy.
"How can words and music that once filled my heart and drew me to God, now instill such anger and sorrow? ...”
[Her mother] moaned. “Haven’t I wrestled with the same questions? ... Because of his many gifts, we often forgot he is flesh and blood, like every man. He’s God’s anointed king, yes, but as we both know, he’s also but a man. All men are capable of the most heinous sin, even as they are able to bless and be generous.” P.109-110
Lorita Boyle is a wonderful writer. She shows us the emotional pain and feelings of worthlessness that result from rape. She also shows us the spiritual disillusionment of being harmed by someone she trusted, someone who represents God. Boyle’s David is a complex character. He is a man of selfishness and violence. He is also a man of tenderness and sensitivity. Ultimately it is music and their child that bring Bathsheba and her defiler together.
Bathsheba also struggles with anger toward God—the one who closed her womb to Uriah, whom she loved, and opened it to a rapist.
“For years I pleaded to God for a child, and bled every month from his silence.” p.84
This is not twenty-first century America. Three thousand years ago in the Middle East rape made Bahsheba an adulteress. She didn’t cry out. (What good would it have done in her abuser’s palace?) Adultery was punishable by death. Abortion via herbs was a possibility even then, but Bathsheba rejects it. When her mother suggests praying that God will help her to miscarry, Bathsheba replies,
“Oh dear God, no,” I gasped, pushing out of her arms. “I can’t. Mama, I understand your desire to protect me, but life’s finally taken root in me which is the bitterest of joy I have ever know. I can’t petition God to take the life I’ve just discovered, even if the existence of this child kills me.” p. 86
Boyle shows a firm understanding of her time and place. By her own account she loves research and the results show--not in a stilted account of items learned from books, but in seamlessly walking in Bathsheba's world.
Boyle includes several sets of discussion questions to approach various issues raised by this timeless story, including barrenness, rape/physical abuse, betrayal, and loss of a child. She is available as a speaker. You will definitely want a copy of Bathsheba's Lament for your church library. It would also make an excellent book club selection.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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