Good advice from Kempis (1,11). When temptation first rears its head is when it needs to be distracted or stopped. To paraphrase a saying that has stuck with me: entertaining a temptation is not a sin; problems arise, though, when the temptation entertains you. We are very good at justifying all sorts of bad behavior (“I can allow myself one little vice,” “Who is it harming, anyway?,” “God loves me not matter what,” “I’m only human,” and so on).
We should be as lucky as David to have a friend like Nathan, who confronts us in our grievous errors without hesitation for the good of our immortal souls (2 Sm 12:1-7a, 10-17). We have no indication one way or the other of David’s conscience after his dastardly deeds of the previous chapter. No matter, that conscience comes in the form of a prophet whom we first encounter five chapters earlier when the Davidic covenant is revealed. Nathan will be a part of David’s court for the rest of the king’s life.
It is to David’s credit that, upon Nathan’s condemnation of David’s actions, the latter speaks not one word of anger (being the king, he could have done anything he wanted to Nathan) or complaint, but, rather, he simply utters the words in the headline (in this simple, heartfelt, utterance we are reminded of the humble sinner in Jesus’ Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector — see Lk 18:13). Further, when Nathan informs David of the dire consequences of his actions, all indications are that he accepts them then and there and in the future. He is a true model or repentance (there are many penitential psalms attributed to David, the most famous being Psalm 51 — worth reading … every day).
Through the grace of God, Nathan is sent to David to stop any possibility that David would continue in his wicked ways, thus breaking off a potential evil habit before it could take root. Nevertheless, David will be reminded for the rest of his life of his grave sins (“I will bring evil upon you out of your own house” — v. 11; just read the rest of 2 Samuel to see how this manifests itself), and it would redound to his dynasty well after he left the world (“the sword shall never depart from your house” — v. 10; just read the rest of the Old Testament to see how this manifests itself).
This is why we are not to despise fraternal correction, but accept it humbly. We are also called to give fraternal correction, gently, and with love. We are to be like God, “who “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), including ourselves.
One final, separate note: why must the innocent child of David and Bathsheba’s illicit union die? This is a disturbing consequence that God willed, is it not? You can find many attempted explanations, but I found this article particularly interesting in its struggle to come to grips with this consequence.
David and Nathan (c. 1797) by Angelika Kauffmann