“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
Mercy is not just for when we sin. Mercy can be for anything that we are up against and seems to large for us to manage; and so we ask for mercy so that what threatens to overwhelm is, will not. But setting aside that idea – for the issue of things that overwhelm is stronger in my mind than the issue of sin . . .
“ . . . according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1b)
That is not to say I do not have “transgressions” but at this particular moment they are not heavy in my thinking. So I can be objective, and not lapse into revealing of personal issues that would be uncomfortable for all.
“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.” (Verses 2-3)
Can you imagine the utter feeling of sin if it literally was ever before you?! I do not know what David might have thought represented his sin that was ever before him. I hope it was not Bathsheba, the sight of her being pregnant with the child that caused Uriah the Hittite’s death. Did Bathsheba feel that “sin” literally and figuratively pressing on her day and night? It would be interesting to know what her reflections and thoughts were during this time. I do not know if feminist or womanist thinking could or would appropriate this psalm as Bathsheba. It would certainly be more complex that anything King David could have penned.
“Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, . . . “ (Verse 4a)
Oh really?! Had King David already tried to atone and make right what he did to Uriah, Bathsheba, and the pain to the prophet Nathan? I would hope so, that King David said penance in words and actions to those close to him, as well as to God. If not, then any confession to God is not a full and complete one. God demands as much care and attention of the relationship to those around you as to the Divine. Remember that, beloved reader.
“. . . so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.” (Verse 4b)
In our relationships to others, there needs to be mutual accountability. But with God, we function under the command of God, and God’s command . . . . is probably more thorough and complex than I want to get into here.
“Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” (Verse 5)
This is a theological point that I cannot totally agree with. Humans are born with the innate trait to become sinners. But a child newly born is with out sin, but is born into a world that is riff with sin. And shame to those who first lead an innocent child into sin!
“You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.” (Verses 6-8)
It may be strange to think that one should be joyful that one is purged, washed (well, maybe not that) and crushed. But I am reminded of a song I have been hearing and listening to lately. The theme of the song is that the cross has washed away all our sins and made us “Flawless” (the song’s title) having received God’s grace. If grace purges us (which hyssop can do if taken internally or can be used as a soap) and makes up clean; and overwhelms to the point of being helpless, then there will be “joy and gladness” and we may just be wiser from the experience.
“Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” (Verses 9-12)
Let us not forget though that this is King David’s psalm. Not that we should not or cannot use it as a template for us. But David was asking God for a great deal, in comparison to what he did. He deprived Bathsheba of her husband and brought shame upon her. He abused his position as king, both in taking and shaming Bathsheba, killing her husband, making Joab complicit in his sin, and grieving the prophet Nathan. Do not forget the prophet Nathan in this; do not think it did not take a great deal of courage and inner strength for Nathan to confront King David. Do not think prophets, ministers, faith leaders and spiritual directors do not grieve when they have to provide redirection and God’s words of correction.
If David can ask for, with confidence, God’s mercy, forgiveness, and restoration – so can we! Selah beloved reader!