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Was David a Sociopath?

This week’s question comes from Donna in British Columbia, Canada. She asks whether King David was sociopathic. “Did David assume he could, as ruler, do as he pleased...to select more than one wife, and send a man to his death? Did David think he was above law on earth, as King?”

Before we answer the question, I wanted to quickly point out that David’s sin wasn’t that he had more than one wife. Polygamy is nowhere prohibited in the scriptures, with the exception for some rulers/leaders. David’s sin wasn’t how many wives, it was the fact that he chose another man’s wife to “have and to hold.” Adultery is a biblical sin, polygamy is not.

Okay, on to the question about David’s state of mind. Did David think he was above the law because he was king?

That question really has to be answered with another question: Don’t we all?

Let’s look at the story. David was king over all of Israel and one hot afternoon he was wandering around the palace and happened to look across the street. To his amazement, there was a young woman taking a bath on the rooftop patio. Apparently she was a beautiful woman and David inquired about her identity. It turned out she was Bathsheba, the wife of one of David’s military commanders who just happened to be out fighting a war. David sent for the woman, spent the night with her, and sent her home pregnant. David tried to hide his sin by tricking her husband, but in the end David insured that the commander died in battle (2 Samuel 11). 

So, did David think he was above the law because he was king? No. David thought he was above the law because he was human. 

According to Dr. Tom O’Connor of North Carolina Wesleyan College in the Justice Studies Department, one of the chief traits of sociopathy is egocentricity. Egocentricity means that we’ve put the “I” above all else—we literally become the center of our own universe. And that’s the bottom line of sin. We sin when we to put ourselves, our needs, and our desires above everyone and everything and act on that impulse regardless of the moral implications. In David’s case, he saw Bathsheba and his desire for her (lust) outweighed any other considerations. Did David know he was sinning? Undoubtedly. Did he care? Apparently not enough to do anything about it there in the heat of the moment. Was that a sociopathic response? Perhaps. Was it egocentric? Absolutely.

But that’s a big, fat, hairy, hurtful sin. What about when you and I sin? You know, the fudge factor on the IRS form. Those extra ten minutes we tack onto our lunch “hour.” The juicy tidbit about Shirley we share over a cup of coffee. Surely it’s too strong to call those sociopathic acts.

Which may be the exact problem of our culture as a whole. The vast majority of people in America believe that the lack of morality in our society is a serious problem. On the other hand, we’ve done everything we can to sugar-coat anything that might be immoral, unjust, or sinful. American newscaster Dan Rathers said, “I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things.” His comment is paradigmatic of society’s blindness to what sin really is. Sin is an ugly and selfish act. Sin hurts people. To sin is to practice the notion that somehow, in someway, at sometime we are above the law. And that, by definition, is one of the key symptoms of sociopathy. 

It’s always been easier to point at someone else’s “big” sins than it has been to recognize our own. In John 8, when a woman was caught in adultery, a sin punishable by death, the religious leaders dragged her to Jesus for his judgment. In answer, Jesus bent over and began to write on the ground. Now, no one knows for sure exactly what he wrote, but many believe he began to list the sins of those “righteous religious leaders.” When Jesus finished and looked up, these men had left leaving the woman before him. “Where are your accusers?” he asked. She replied that they had all gone. And Jesus instructed her to “Go and stop sinning.”

King David was guilty of sin—of big sin. But our own acts of sin are no more “pure” than his. Sin, in the end, is egocentricity acted out in our behaviors. And until we’re ready to be honest with ourselves and our own pathology, we might as well face it—on some level, we’re sociopaths everyone of us.

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