God’s Story-ing in 2 Samuel
Fr. Yesu Karunanidhi
A depressed person, who was on the verge of killing himself, was taken to a psychiatrist by her friends. “Why do you wish to die?” asked the psychiatrist. “I don’t have any hope for living,” replied the woman. “Give me a solution,” and she pleaded. “I don’t have a solution, but I have a story to tell,” continued the psychiatrist. He said his story. She was transformed.
We all need stories to live. Or, we all are stories living. At the crossroads of life, when we stand stranded and helpless, the world around us threatens saying, TINA (There Is No Alternative Story) — There Is No Alternative to drugs, injustice, violence, consumerism, greed, et al. But, the god-spark in us whispers, TAMAS (There Are Many Alternative Stories).
The Holy Bible is replete with ‘many alternative stories.’ The creation stories (Genesis 1–2) tell us how we all came to be. The fall story (Genesis 3) reminds us why we are what we are. Noah’s story tells that one person’s righteousness would save entire creation (Genesis 9). The Babel story talks about the origin of languages (Genesis 11). The stories of the patriarchs tell us how God controls the entire salvation history (Gen 12–50). The Exodus story consoles us that liberation from bondage is always possible (Exodus 3–15). In the New Testament Jesus comes from God narrating the mercy of God (Luke 15). The gospels portray him as a great storyteller. The miracle stories tell us how people were transformed for the better.
Stories that God use communicate meaning at three levels: (a) As a life-event that happened in a particular space and time; (b) As one that affects someone else’s life; and © As something that addresses the reader piercing her hearts and rendering it apart. At the first level the reader is a passive listener, at the second level she is an irresponsible interlocutor, and at the third level she becomes a convinced convert.
Let us illustrate this point with a story from 2 Samuel 12, Nathan’s parable to King David. The context is that David commits adultery with Bathsheba, and kills her husband Uriah. God sends Prophet Nathan to David. The prophet Nathan told this parable to king David:
“There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a great many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb which he bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and his children. It would eat of his bread and drink of his cup and lie in his bosom, and was like a daughter to him. Now a traveller came to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take from his own flock or his own herd, to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him; rather he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”
David’s reaction to the story was understandable:
Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. . . ” Nathan then said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:1–7)
Nathan starts by painting a vivid and comprehensible picture. In the story one person is poor, and the other person is rich. What the rich person did in the story is unjust. God wants to show David that what he has committed is not two acts — adultery and murder, but he has gone against God’s justice.
The key word to explain how the parable works is analogy. The story of the sheep is like David’s story in significant ways; by comparing them (in a powerfully dramatic way) Nathan is reminding David of the truths David is hiding from in his own life. The details of the two stories do not all correspond. If we set out merely to “decode” Nathan’s story, we might identify David, Uriah, and Bathsheba as the rich man, poor man, and sheep, respectively. But who is the traveller? And why isn’t the poor man killed, the way Uriah was? Obviously, Nathan’s parable is not a coded retelling of David’s precise story. Its power is due to the fact that David’s life is like this story; David understands the story, but is self-deceived about his own life; when Nathan throws the switch which connects the parable with David’s life, David sees his own sin through Nathan’s eyes.
It should be clear, too, then, that David is not “the rich man” in the parable, nor is the “poor man” Uriah, nor the “ewe lamb” Bathsheba (she certainly didn’t end up in the stew!). Rather, the story elicits a judgment from David that implicates his own behaviour as guilty.
At the first level David thinks that Nathan is presenting a real case in front of him. At the second level, David compares the rich man to his General Joab, who let Uriah be killed in the battlefield. At the third level David puts himself in the story and surrenders to the prophet.
What does God want to communicate to David through this story? Or what are the alternatives that God proposes to David, who had no alternative but to lay with Bathsheba and to kill Uriah?
(a) David is the ewe-lamb that was loved by God. When he was a little shepherd boy God chose him to be the great king of Israel. It was God who raised the status of David. David ate from the bread of the Lord and drank from God’s cup. He was God’s dearly beloved.
(b) Lust is the wayfarer referred in the story. Lust, which arrives as a traveller, when entertained becomes a guest, and when retained becomes an heir devouring our patrimony and heritage.
© The ewe lamb is killed and eaten once for all. Nothing can be undone in the story. But, God directs David providentially. Things do take a better shape. Through Bathsheba emerges Solomon. And later, Bathsheba also turns out to be an opportunist, who exploits David’s ill health and ageing. Sadly, the sword does not leave the house of David.
Hence, God’s storying opens up new hermeneutical horizons, where each of meets the other in a new perspective. Let us not be led into despair that There Is No Alternative (TINA). We can alternate stories and continue to strive for the better.
God is a great storyteller. From God’s mouth we come out as little anecdotes, and we continue to affect many stories or are affected by many stories. Stories have to continue.
(Dr. Yesu Karunanidhi, a priest of the Archdiocese of Madurai, currently serves as the Executive Secretary to the Commission for Bible of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI), Bengaluru, Karnataka. His circle of influence consists of cross-cultural studies and inter-textual readings. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)