Psalm 51 is a Scripture that I've often seen held up as an example of repentance and turning back to God. Look at how humble David is - this shows how much he had a heart after God, because he majorly screwed up but still repented and went on to do great things! But when I read Psalm 51 this week, I was struck by the measureless mercy of God.
If you're not familiar with the backstory, check out 2 Samuel 11. David, one of the greatest kings of all time, decides he wants a woman, and he takes her. Not just any woman - the wife of one of his loyal soldiers, who is currently out battling the enemy in foreign lands. This might be equivalent to the President of the United States deciding one of his Marine's wives looks pretty good and he wants her in bed, while the Marine is sweating it out in Iraq. David brings the woman, Bathsheba, to the palace, sleeps with her, then sends her back home. We can only assume he saw it as a one-off fling that everyone would keep hush-hush about. But then - of course - she gets pregnant.
David calls his soldier back and tries everything he can to get the guy, Uriah, to sleep with Bathsheba, so that Uriah will think the child is his. But Uriah feels horrible that he could be enjoying his wife while his comrades' lives are threatened on the battlefield. He refuses and goes back. David, at his wit's ends, orders one of his generals to put the man in a position that guarantees his death. Uriah dies, David allows Bathsheba to mourn, then he marries her to "make things right."
But God is not fooled. He has seen the deception, lust, and selfishness lurking in the dark corners of David's heart. He sends a prophet who convicts David of his sin, and David repents. He writes Psalm 51, and God forgives, but still takes away the life of David and Bathsheba's child.
Psalm 51 is raw. Although we praise David as a man after God's own heart, that doesn't mean he was any less sinful than we were. He comes face to face with his own depravity. David realizes he can no longer hide who he truly is - a man in need of a new heart.
So David writes down the pain tearing at his insides. In the first six verses, David confesses his sin - not just the action, but that his very self is corrupt. He begs for mercy from God based on God's love and compassion - not based on his previous track record. "Well, God, you think you can let this one slide, since I did so many good things in the past? Don't they outweigh this one mess-up?" No - he knew God demanded perfect holiness, and he had failed.
In verses 7-12, David asks for restoration - for the creation of a new heart, and a spirit that is faithful and steadfast. He asks for the Holy Spirit to stay with him, and for the joy of God's salvation to fill him. David recognizes that God doesn't want physical sacrifices (verses 16-17). What if David had believed the Old Testament sacrifices were enough to save him and to get rid of the sin in his heart? Instead of penning this psalm, he could have gone to the temple, sacrificed a bull, sent Uriah's family some money, and felt justified. But he knew that the blood of animals could never take away the sin rooted deep in his heart. He know he couldn't ask God's forgiveness based on his past merit. God could only forgive through his compassion and love, and sacrifice meant laying his broken, sinful heart at the feet of God and asking God to give him a pure one.
David knew he could never make up for the sinfulness that defined him as a human. He knew that "behaving" or "trying to do better" in the future wouldn't erase his sin. He had no other claim but the steadfast love of God.
I wish I have always responded to sin like David. But more often, I have messed up, then tried to make it up - thinking that if I just try harder next time, I'll do better on my own. For example, when I speak harshly to my husband, I cringe at the glimpse of darkness coming out of my heart. I think, Well, I normally treat him with respect, so that time doesn't count, or Dang it - I'll make it up to him later by making something awesome for dinner! I don't recognize it as a symptom of sin - not just what I do, but who I am.
I am a woman in need of a new heart.
David's words remind me that there's no sacrifice I can make that will ever be enough to take away the guilt of my corrupt nature. My good deeds are worthless if I try to use them as a ticket into God's favor, because they are tainted by sin. They are worthless; God is looking for brokenness and humility, repentance and a cry for renewal.
The only work I can claim for myself is Christ's work done on the cross.
The cross was the ultimate expression of God's love for me, and I have to be reminded of this every day. I need daily renewal and repentance and a constant return to the God I stray from. And I'm grateful beyond words that when I do screw it up, I can ask forgiveness based on God's love for me, expressed through Christ's life and death.
Hope you enjoyed this mini-devo! I will start posting thoughts about God, Scripture, and living out our faith on Saturday mornings for y'all to enjoy on your weekends!