“[King David’s] servants asked him, ‘Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!’
“He answered, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, “Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.” But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.’”
~2 Samuel 12:21-23 (NIV [adapted]).
Could grief be better defined as: the attempt at coping and our process of adjusting to the death of someone or something very important to us?
Whatever it is, grief grabs hold of us, most often without any warning, and it holds us as long as it wishes... and seemingly we’re powerless to stop its tenure.
The appropriate word above is perhaps, “seemingly.” The object of this article is to challenge this thought—that we’re swept up in grief beyond our control. Perhaps we have more control than we think we do. Perhaps God bids us more control?
Stepping Back into David’s Context
This is an incredibly rich passage, theologically. For instance, what was David’s motivation in fasting and weeping? It appears he was hoping—in his bargaining with God—to sway the will of the Lord to his defence. And why not—any parent would do the same thing.
Only one short chapter ago we recall David’s plight commenced when his ravenous desire gave way for the “very beautiful” Bathsheba—everything went ‘south’ from there for David; it’s one of only two macro-sins attributed to this man after God’s own heart that are catalogued in the entire Bible.
But this particular sin was a real clanger. It started David on a slippery slope toward consequences he would come later to bitterly regret.
As a direct result of this sin, Nathan, the prophet of the Lord, foretold the death of David’s son in verse 14. And so this took place in verse 18.
A Sound Theory for Closure in Grief
The profiled three verses perhaps summarise the mood for David in his context. Perhaps there was more said; we’ll never know.
But, what we do know is this:
David came to a remarkably quick acceptance of his new reality. Perhaps this was because he felt that justice had now been done, that he’d been struck by the Lord in accordance with the prophesy of Nathan. This would be consistent with the remarkable level of faith ascribed to David. Faith as this is perhaps capable of quick turns of acceptance. But, that’s only one theory.
An equally relevant theory and more importantly, an eternal hope for us in our grief, is that David’s final statement, viz., “I will go to him, but he will not return to me,” may mean that the truth of the Lord is installed by David—the son will not return. This fact is accepted at the level of the mind; the mind is then informing the heart regarding what to feel. It sounds ‘legislated’ but it’s something all human beings are capable of.
Perhaps David is saying, “I will die one day, but he will not again become alive.”
This is probably a grounded acceptance that the son cannot return. Again, that’s noteworthy.
It is quite clear that David felt it more appropriate to pray and fast before his son died, i.e. when he might appease God’s will, and less appropriate afterwards. This is a remarkable acceptance. Maybe, again, it is also David’s acceptance that God’s judgment has now been executed (referring to how obedient in the faith David actually was—he would have felt better simply knowing his relationship with the Lord was back on more even ground).
David’s actions show us something, as Ambrose states: “What a true judgment from a wise man! What a wonderful wisdom exhibited by a servant [of God]!”
Is it also possible for us to see here both the cost and benefit of discipleship in the Lord?
The cost of obeying God is accepting the Lord’s will—the son has died. The benefit is life can begin again. This is crude, I know, but it’s nonetheless true. It is easy to rationalise that the son went to be with God—taking on David’s probable view.
It comes down, really in the final analysis, to healthy belief.
Whatever we conclude, belief is critically important. And by “belief” I don’t mean Christian belief, I just mean belief in a truth that fits our paradigm of reality—the one that God blesses through our experience of spiritual life, i.e. the reality of hope and not despair.
This sort of belief has our minds set in a commitment to train ourselves continually to think positively and think forwardly—give or take (for we’ll all have our ‘down days’)—for our own future’s sake, and for those loved ones left behind. The person or situation we’ve lost will almost certainly not want us overwhelmed in grief over an extended time period (or at all).
But, we always have to come back to the actual fact: grief will take as long as it takes.
With grief, we don’t get through it until we get through it.
God has the final say, and acceptance of this fact always has us being gentler with ourselves. This is always a very important transitional outcome to reach.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.
Afterthought: This passage mentions little about Bathsheba’s grief; only that David went to comfort her... they conceived Solomon (verse 24). Perhaps in this instance, from the practical viewpoint, maternal grief can be seen as possibly more devastating—and certainly different—than paternal grief is... possibly. And then again, the husband will grieve for the wife too—and how can he possibly help her?—so in those terms the experience of grief is just perhaps different.
 Mary J. Evans, The Message of Samuel – The Bible Speaks Today (
 John R. Franke (Ed.) and Thomas C. Oden (Gen. Ed.), Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture – Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1–2 Samuel (