It's worth our time to reflect on what this story teaches us about prayer. Here's what I said.
He fits right in...
Thing is, not only is this kind of behaviour consistent for David, it's consistent in the Bible. Again and again we see total screw-ups in the Bible. Abraham's a spineless wimp, Moses is a whiny coward, Samson's a player, Noah's a drunk. And the New Testament isn't at all immune: Peter's totally a dufus, Paul's arrogant, Zechariah questions God, the Twelve run away. Point is, David sins with the best of them, and it's totally Biblical to see this. The stories of the Bible are not those of perfect gods walking the Earth; they are stories of a heavenly God popping in on Earth and shaking things up. The record is of screwed-up people encountering God in a way that shapes their lives, and this makes the Bible pretty handy for those of us who are still screwed up.
OK, but still, David? and these sins? He is the one God makes a personal covenant with, saying I will always restore your line, the one from whom we will expect the Messiah. What was God thinking? How could David have deserved or warranted such a deal with God? Well, there's our answer isn't it? He couldn't ever deserve it. God could expect a sinful person - any sinful person - to betray his covenant again and again, as David's descendants did. God did not make the deal with God's eyes shut; God was not caught off guard. So, then, why? Why make an eternal covenant with unfaithful people?
God establishes a covenant with humanity so that humans can walk away from God again and again, and see that God will never walk away. God makes it, we break it, God stays faithful. David, then, did some great things when he trusted God, some crappy things when he looked after himself, and absolutely nothing to deserve God's deal with him.
We still have the second part of the question: besides sinfulness, what are we to think about prayer when David so clearly tries to manipulate God into doing what he wants? Then, when it doesn't work, the tears dry up, the regret doesn't sting anymore, and it's back to business as usual. What's up with that?
All I can say is discomfort with David's prayer is a perfectly valid instinct here. David is not entering prayer out of love for God, but still motivated as he was when he peeped a bathing beauty: he's in it for himself.
Here's what amazing about the Bible for me: I can always see myself in the story. I pray to manipulate God. I get really upset at my sinfulness when I want God to do something, only to have it evaporate when things get better. Even my faith, which I sometimes take pride in, can be an expression of my self-centeredness. It's despicable in David because it's despicable in me.
God, never mind David, how can God put up with me?
And that's where we see why God has given us the Bible. Because we see that God puts up with me for the same reason God puts up with that selfish, manipulating, lying, cheating, stealing, killing Big Fat Jerk, King David: God just does. That's the way God rolls.
God doesn't walk away in disgust, like any of us would if we were friends with King David. God remains faithful, raises up the sons of David, protects and restores his people, and then offers even more: the Son of David promised and longed for, who offers in the face of rejection, and then offers again and again until we cannot even be violent enough to end the offer.
It's enough to blow the mind of this Big Fat Jerk.