A little over ten years ago, on August 7, 2007, Barry Bonds hit his 756th homerun, surpassing the Major League Baseball record for total career homeruns once held by Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.
Not everyone celebrated. Many suspected that Bonds had been using performance enhancing drugs. Some wondered aloud if he should be credited with the record. The New York Post headline read, “No. 756 Just Junk Bonds.” The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Fans Debate True Champion.” Some, such as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, added an asterisk: “Bonds Blasts No. 756*”
The asterisk idea took off. When fashion designer Mark Ecko purchased the ball for $752,467, he conducted an on-line survey to determine what to do with it. Over 10 million people voted to have it branded with an asterisk before being donated to the baseball Hall of Fame. The phrase “an asterisk after his name,” became part of the national discourse, used in all sorts of contexts to describe a person whose achievement has questions swirling around it. It must really frustrate Bonds that, every time his great feats are described, people cannot restrain themselves from mentioning steroids.
This reminds me of King David. What an amazing man! Even from his days as the youngest child in a big family, working in the fields as a shepherd, God was grooming him for great things. When God sought a person to replace Saul, He found David (1 Sam. 16:7). He wasn’t special on the outside, but on the inside he was “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). He faced down Goliath when no one else would, defeating a man far bigger, stronger, and well-armed than he was (1 Sam. 17:45). David defended the helpless, often at great personal risk. He showed patience and humility in the household of Saul. He worshiped God, authoring many psalms of praise. When David finally ascended to the throne, he was such a godly leader that he served as a model of King Jesus. God promised to build for David an everlasting household from which the Messiah would come. You can search the pages of Scripture and hardly find an example of a man more faithful than David!
But, are one of these faithful deeds the first thing you think of when you think of David? I dare say that most people think of him committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband Uriah in 2 Samuel 11-12. Even those who think of Goliath first, recall Bathsheba and Uriah soon after.
Not even the historian in 1 Kings 15:1-5, who extolled David’s virtues, could help going there:
…David did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.
Oh, that the verse could stop with “all the days of his life…” and did not need “…except in the case of Uriah.” Here, decades later, the sin hasn’t faded away. Even though God took away the guilt of his iniquity (2 Sam. 12:13, Psalm 51), this episode haunted him for the rest of his life. He, his family, and even the whole nation, suffered the consequences from that day forward.
It’s as if every epitaph of David will have a wretched footnote:
David, a man after God’s own heart*
Let’s learn two lessons from this. First, no one is incapable of sin, no matter how many great deeds they have done, no matter how long they have been in the Lord. Pillars of faith such as Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samson, Solomon, Uzziah, and Peter have black marks on their record. Avoid the pride that precedes a fall (Prov. 16:18).
Second, while we take it as a matter of fact that God forgets when He forgives, He doesn’t really, and neither do people. Now, relax! I believe Hebrews 8:12 as firmly as the next person. I’ve even used “delete” key on a computer to illustrate God’s fogiveness. God cleanses our sin, and justifies the sinner. Christians, who follow the ways of God (Matt. 6:14-15), should strive to act as if sins forgiven are sins forgotten. We completely relinquish our right to hold that crime against the person we have forgiven. If a wife truly forgives her husband for a sin, she cannot dredge it back up when it can be useful as blackmail, say, to buy an expensive piece of jewelry.
Nevertheless, the sin and its aftermath exist. Haven’t we already seen that God, while He forgave David’s sin in 2 Sam. 12:13, imposed the physical consequences for the sin in 2 Sam. 12:15 and beyond; and furthermore mentioned it decades later through the inspired writer of 1 Kings 15? Clearly, the sin hadn’t vanished from His memory banks the way we sometimes think. It’s not fair to hold against someone a forgiven sin, but it is fair to learn from it, and to guard against it in the future. See Psalm 78:38 for another example of this principle.
See to it that when the story of your life as a preacher, a father, a businessman, a Christian is recounted, it needs no asterisk. –John Guzzetta