Restore to me the joy of your salvation... (Psalm 51:12).
We know what David did, but we don't know exactly what his behaviors did to him.
Was he miserable? Was he able to sleep at night? The story itself is not clear on this point. Our best clue comes from Psalm 51, David's prayer of confession. The words open a window to what might have been happening in David's soul.
If you look at Psalm 51 you'll notice a brief prescript above the text of the prayer. The prescript gives us context for what we're about to read. This prayer captures David's confession after the prophet Nathan confronted him with his adultery and murder.
Thank God for Nathan. All of us need someone in our lives who will tell us the truth. Someone who loves us too much to let us keep on lying to ourselves and posturing in front of others.
Psalm 51 is 19 verses long: too much material for this already lengthy reflection. But the richness of the Psalm and the essence of confession can be captured in two observations. Like David, when we make confession we are acknowledging something true about our own lives, and we are at the same time acknowledging something true about God.
The Truth about Us
The truth about us is that we're broken. The biblical word for this is 'sin' and David states the truth with raw honesty: "For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me" (v. 3). This is no mere admission of bad behavior. David is not simply saying "I did something wrong" or "I crossed the line." His words go deeper and so should ours. David knows that something in his very nature is messed up. It's about the human condition and not just human conduct. David acknowledges that he is a sinner, not simply that he committed a sin.
The Truth about God
The truth about God is that only God can take what is broken in us and make it right. Psalm 51 is full of verbs: blot out, wash me, cleanse me, purge me, have mercy on me (vv. 1-2). God is the one who does all of these actions. We do not and cannot do this for ourselves. David says as much: "You do not delight in sacrifice or I would bring it" (v. 16). Religious activities such as giving an offering or joining a Bible study are ineffective in addressing our root condition. Something must be done that we cannot do. The truth about God is that God graciously does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
Grace and Gratitude
Here's the truly remarkable thing about confession - both David's and ours. The point is not to get 'excused.' We don't confess hoping that God will give us a 'pass' on some moral failure or bad decision. That's not enough. David prays for the restoration of joy (v. 12). And that's exactly what God wants for us. We were meant to live with joy. God's mercy to us gives rise to joy. We are not merely excused, we are exultant; we are made whole and right with God. Jesus called it "life abundant" and he came to live and die among us so that we might have that kind of life (John 10:10).
David's story tells us something that we have a hard time believing: Nothing we do will ever put us beyond the reach of God's grace. Nothing we do will disqualify us from discovering an abundant and joyful life. God wills to restore us and God is drawn to the "broken spirit and contrite heart" (v. 17).
Our response to this grace is gratitude. And that's the very best reason for thankfulness on this Thanksgiving Day. Like David, we don't compensate for our own sins by bringing a sacrifice or trying harder to do better. God provided the sacrifice in Jesus. And because of what Jesus did on our behalf we can live with a forgiven heart.
Thanks be to God.
We give you thanks, O God, for the gift of your mercy and the joy that comes with it. Today we pray with David: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me . . . You do not delight in sacrifice . . . a broken and contrite heart you will not despise. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise." We offer our praise and gratitude to you this day, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Mark H. Crumpler
Pastor for Worship and Formation