Reflection March 7
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment. Psalm 51:1-4
When I was younger, I had great balance. Growing up I could climb high into trees, walk on wooden fences, and stand fearlessly on the edge of cliffs. Now that I’m older, my balance isn’t nearly as good. I can’t depend on myself to keep from falling, so I have to be much more careful in the places and ways I move, lest I lose my balance.
I think that King David lost his balance when he sinned with Bathsheba. And it was the best thing that could have happened to him.
When you lose your balance, you need to depend on something other than yourself to stay upright. It may be a wall or a chair or another person. Losing his balance meant that David couldn’t depend on his own skill and ingenuity to manage his sin. At first, he tried to do so. When he discovered Bathsheba was pregnant, he schemed to convince her husband Uriah that he had conceived the child. When these plans failed, he sent Uriah to the front lines of battle so that he would be killed. David was trying his best to manage his sin.
Psalm 51 shows David after his failure to manage his sin. In this psalm, David acknowledges that only God can fix his problem. Look at verses one and two and notice the verbs that describe what David is asking God to do: have mercy, blot out the stains, wash me clean, purify me. David approaches God knowing that his own actions cannot fix his problem. It is only the action of God that can do so.
David knows that God’s actions are rooted in God’s character. David appeals therefore, not to his own past record of goodness or his efforts to do better, but to God’s “unfailing love” (verse 1) and “great compassion” (verse 2). Because God is full of unfailing love and great compassion, David can come to him and ask for the mercy and cleansing he needs and longs for. In facing the depths of his rebellion, he realizes that his hope and confidence must be in the Lord, not himself. His fate is not in his own hands – he must give up control.
In verses three and four, David confesses his sin to the Lord. He recognizes aloud his rebellion which, he says, haunts him all the time. He confesses, too, that his sin was ultimately against the Lord, and the Lord alone. David cannot fix things by impressing other people. His killing of Uriah was ultimately an attempt to manage the consequences of his sin. It didn’t work. David sinned against God and it is God he has to reckon with now. In a nutshell, David realizes he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Only God can set him free from the haunting.
I want to learn like David to throw myself wholeheartedly and fully upon God’s lovingkindness. I, too, have a tendency towards sin management, towards trying to keep my balance by avoiding big sins and effectively managing the small ones. Such an attitude, sadly, can keep me from experiencing the depths of joy God intends. Rather than holding onto God because I can’t balance myself, I aim instead to work hard to keep myself clean and to clean up after myself when I fail (which I often do). How much better to cry out like David did: “Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love.”