The next chapter of The Imitation of Christ (1,11) is dedicated to spiritual progress and what hinders it. We will have a chance to dive in in the next several posts as this is a particularly outstanding chapter filled with quotable and thought-provoking lines.
David certainly was a passionate man, as we see even from his early life and heroic deeds (just one example: witness his boldness as a boy in offering to take on Goliath — 1 Sm 17:32-37). In the famous episode recounted in today’s first reading (2 Sm 11-1-4a, 5-10a, 13-17), David is found shirking his duty to go out on campaign, idly passes his time, spies a beautiful (married) woman and decides he must have her (he too is married), finds out that she has become pregnant with his child, then, ultimately, has her husband killed.
If there ever was a case where someone shirking his duty to his charges (by not campaigning) and to his God (by not praying and acting uprightly), it’s King David. Consider the great favors given to him: kingship over a united empire, triumph over enemies, and a covenant from God assuring an everlasting dynasty of anointed divine sonship (see 2 Sam 7). Yet, seemingly taking it all for granted, in his sloth, his eye wanders, he commits adultery, which then leads to murder. Sin is multiplied upon sin.
What is the old saying? “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” (see Prov 16:27). Would David not have done better doing his duty, or at least staying focused on the Lord and all the good He had done for him? David knew the commandments but in short order broke three of them (at least): coveting, adultery, and murder. His flaunting of duty and devotion, due to his “passions and lusts,” as Kempis says, leads to contempt from God (“in the sight of the LORD what David had done was evil” — v. 27) and man (we’ll get to that tomorrow).
Now, for most persons (thank God!), our passions and lusts will not lead to this sort of unthinkable behavior. But is it not the case that so little progress, and sometimes regress, in the spiritual life, is due to idleness leading to distraction and/or habitual sin? Would we not be better off saying a quick prayer (or a very long one, as temptation warrants), reading the Bible or some other wholesome work (Kempis’s mention of the saints should lead us to their biographies), spending time before the Blessed Sacrament, or doing charitable works (for the Martha’s out there — see Lk 10:38-42)?
Let us learn from David’s sinful behavior today and his reaction when confronted with it tomorrow.
Bathsheba Bathing, painting from
the Book of Hours, Louis XII