The Biblical account of David and Absalom shows us two ways in which people respond to suffering and grief. One way is that of revenge, and its end is self destruction. The other is that of forgiveness, and it is the way that God has commanded believers to behave towards suffering and grief.
Absalom retreated into himself when hurt. He nursed his grudge, behaving in a passive aggressive manner towards those who hurt him, before finding his lust for revenge boiling over into murder.
David, on the other hand, always retreated to God.
Contend, O Lord, with those who
contend with me;
fight against those who fight
Take hold of shield and buckler
and rise for my help!
Draw the spear and javelin
against my pursuers!
Say to my soul,
“I am your salvation.”
To you, O Lord, I call;
my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if you be silent to me,
I become like those who go down to
Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy,
when I cry to you for help,
when I lift up my hands,
toward your most holy sanctuary.
When Absalom found pain, he kept to himself. But when David found pain, he jotted it down in his diary. You didn’t know David kept a diary? He certainly did. We call it the Psalms. And in that diary he poured all his thoughts and his feelings out to God.
(A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son).
O Lord how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God.
But You, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
and He answered me from His holy
I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord
I will not be afraid of many thousands of
who have set themselves against me
Arise, O Lord!
Save me, O my God!
For You strike all my enemies on the
You break the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the Lord,
Your blessing be on Your people! Selah.
Even as a young lad, left alone in the pasture to tend his father’s sheep, young David retreated to God.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall
He makes me lie own in green
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul,
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.
David kept nothing hidden from God. He told God everything. He even told Him about the times when he felt angry at God!
Why, O Lord, do you stand far
Why do you hide yourself in times of
How long, O Lord? Will You forget
How long will You hide Your face
Awake! Why are You sleeping, O Lord?
Rouse Yourself! Do not reject us
Why do you hide Your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and
For our soul is bowed down to the dust,
our belly clings to the ground.
Rise up, come to our help!
Redeem us for the sake of Your
Some people have a problem with this. Self righteous people especially, because self righteous people believe they earn their salvation in part by pretending to not to be angry when in fact they are. But the truth is, sometimes I am angry with God! Unjustly angry, but nevertheless angry. Especially during those times when I have been hurt!
Look, God is sovereign, and I believe that. This means, among other things, that there is not a single tragedy which occurs that He has not first ordained. If you are on the receiving end of a tragedy, and you are a sinner (as we all are), how then can you not sometimes feel angry with God for having ordained the tragedy? Sometimes I am angry! Tell Him that! David told Him. David told Him everything he felt, and God still called him “a man after My own heart!” Consider on the other hand that Absalom would never deign to tell God this. No, he would instead behave in his usual passive-aggressive manner, pretending not to be angry, but all the while boiling with a lust for revenge just beneath the surface.
But even during those times when David did feel angry, he never stopped at the anger. He told God exactly how he felt, but he never just simply stopped there, letting the anger rest and take hold. Instead, he continued right on to reaffirm the truth about God.
How long, O Lord? Will You forget
How long will You hide Your face
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all
How long shall my enemy be exalted
Consider and answer me, O Lord, my
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in Your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in Your
I will sing to the Lord,
because He has dealt bountifully
So it’s not, God I’m angry with You and then that’s it. Rather, it’s God I’m angry with You, and this is why, but now I will confess what is true about You. Your love and salvation is steadfast. You don’t really ignore Your people. You never ignore Your people. And as I cast my mind back to all the times that You have been good to me, I recognize this. You are good to me, God.
Again, this is the very antithesis to the way Absalom dealt with pain. Absalom kept his thoughts and feelings to himself. Absalom retreated into himself, and then went along pretending everything was on the up and up when, in fact, it wasn’t.
The Sons of Korah went to God even during times of depression.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him,
my salvation and my God.
My soul is cast down within me,
therefore I remember You
from the land of Jordan and of Hermom,
from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
at the roar of Your waterfalls,
all Your breakers and Your waves
have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands His steadfast
and at night His song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
David went to God with everything. He kept nothing hidden from God. He told him about the people who hurt him, and he even told God what he wished God would do to them, but he never let the issue just end there. He always professed the truth about God.
How does a believer deal with suffering and grief? Well, consider that not everyone reacts to grief the same way. Some do not react with anger. Some react with shame and humiliation instead. Others react with blame, even self-blame, as David did after his son Absalom was killed. Still others react with a combination of these. The point is that in whatever way we react, we must learn to be honest about it with God. Pretending that we are not feeling the way we feel, because we are afraid of offending God or losing our salvation is not the way a believer handles grief. Perfect love casts out all fear!
But what exactly is forgiveness; and how does forgiveness fit into all this?
Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed by Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
even as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered them. “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins – He said to the man who was paralyzed – “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Forgiveness does not mean saying the other person was right. God does not forgive by saying the sinner is right. No, the sinner is wrong. The sinner has indeed sinned.
But forgiveness also does not mean that God sweeps the sin under the rug either, and pretends the sinner didn’t sin. Neither do we sweep our pain under the rug and pretend the other person didn’t hurt us.
The word forgiveness simply means “release”. To forgive means to release. No, not to release one from his sins, because we have not the power nor the authority to release someone from their sins. Only God has that power and authority. What we release the offender from is our hunger for revenge.
Revenge. You mean like what Absalom did? In a manner of speaking, yes.
Is it not odd that we tend to relive the pain and humiliation we experience over and over again in our mind after we have been hurt? Think about that. We get hurt, and what’s the first thing we do. We start nursing that hurt as though it was a precious thing to us. Someone hurt us, and like an audience at a theater, we start watching and replaying the moment of hurt over and over again on the movie screen of our imagination. We take revenge upon the person who hurt us by keeping them frozen in that moment of time when they hurt us. Soon, we are unable to think of that person under any circumstances than the one in which they hurt us. You hurt me, and I will never let you live it down.
Forgiving the people who hurt us means releasing them from that movie screen in our minds! It means we make a conscious effort to stop seeing them under that single circumstance. Understand though, that we cannot do this until, like David, we retreat to God and tell Him everything about it. Why? The answer is, because we are selfish, sinful creatures and thus filled to the brim with anger, hurt, shame, and all the thoughts and emotions that go along with being hurt. We need to pour all that emotion out, to pour all those thoughts out, and we need to do it somewhere safe, where we cannot hurt ourselves or someone else. Who is better than God Himself, the God who steadfastly loves His people?
It is only when we have poured out all that hurt that we can then see clearly again His truth. Only then can we grasp that we are as every bit the hurtful sinner that the person who hurt us is. Were it not for God’s grace alone, fully expressed in the cross of Christ, we would be every bit as fit for the same destruction that we think the person who hurt us is fit for.
Now, it is interesting that the world also says pour out the anger and the hurt, the shame and so forth, but there are two major differences between the way a believer does it, and the way the world does it. The world says pour it all out to a counselor, or a psychiatrist, or a friend, or a parent, or to some other sinner. And secondly, and this is the most important part, the world then says to reaffirm the world’s version of truth. Not God’s truth, mind you, but what the world considers true. And if you cannot live with that, then here are some pills to help you sleep.
Consider, for example, that an unbelieving psychiatrist is going to tell you that the reason why you cannot move beyond the abuse your parents gave you as a child is because they potty trained you too early, or that you were subconsciously in love with your mother or father, or that you never learned to think of yourself as a wonderful, beautiful, sin-stainless person deserving of worship and respect. On the other hand, the self righteous counselor is going to tell you that you cannot move beyond the pain, because your parents left a spiritual mark on you that can only be removed with lots of prayer and religious devotion. And goodness, who knows what the new age motivational speaker is going to tell you.
The Bible, however, says something very different. It shows us that we may never move beyond the pain some of us have suffered through abuse.
Never, or at least, not on this side of eternity. David certainly didn’t. He never got beyond his inability to discipline his sons. The Bible is full of failure. The only person who ever succeeds is God, and His record of success of 100%. Everyone else has a big old goose egg.
One would think that after everything David suffered with Absalom, that he would finally have learned to discipline his sons. But no, he continued the same destructive behavior.
1 Kings 1:5-6 Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself saying, “I will be kind” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen and fifty men to run before him. His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom.
David was Adonijah’s father. And soon after this incident, Solomon, another of David’s sons, would kill Adjonijah for his betrayal. Yet a third son paid the price for David’s failure as a father.
You may never get beyond the pain you feel from having suffered abuse. This is because the resurrection has not yet occurred. Christ has not yet returned. David found himself struggling with fits of depression. So did the sons of Korah. They never got beyond this. They died still struggling with this.
But that does not mean they struggled uselessly or alone, or that they never forgave. David poured himself out to God. So did the sons of Korah; their psalms are included in the book of Psalms.
The next time someone hurts you, or you find yourself overwhelmed with grief and depression, why not find a quiet place where you can be alone with God in prayer for a few minutes. Tell Him exactly how you feel, not just about the person who may have hurt you, but if necessary, even about Him. And then, after pouring yourself out to Him, submit to the truth of His gospel. Reaffirm the truth of His gospel which you believe. Acknowledge God’s truth with your mouth, not for His sake, but for yours. And for goodness sake, don’t start making promises. You are a sinner, you are not going to keep a single of them anyway. Just simply profess what God says in His Word is true, both about Him and also you as one of His saints. If it helps, write down on a piece of paper the name of the person who hurt you. Lift that paper high to the Lord, much as Hezekiah did with the letter he received from the king of Assyria (2 Kings 19:14-35). As you raise that paper high, profess to God that you now give so-and-so completely over to Him, they are in His hands, for vengeance is His alone. Then tear that paper into pieces and before the Lord profess that the person who hurt you now owes you nothing.
This is how a believer handles grief, and this is how a believer forgives. Not with Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura’s pseudo psychology nonsense, and not with motivational speakers or self help gurus. The world may talk about tearing a paper into pieces, but they do so without any reliance upon and affirmation of the truth of the gospel. And as for false religion, it tries to forgive in order to get forgiveness. The saints of God, however, forgive because we have been forgiven.
One final note. 1 and 2 Samuel contain the history of God’s people from a historical point of view. And so when we get to the part about David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba, we are greeted with all the most lurid and disgusting details of his sin. However, both 1 and 2 Chronicles covers that exact same history, but this time from God’s point of view. Compare both accounts, the one in 2 Samuel, and the one in 1 Chronicles. You will find no account of David’s adulterous affair in 1 Chronicles. Not even a passing mention.
“Your sins and your iniquities I will remember no more.”