Psalm 51: Seeking Forgiveness
Psalm 51, the most well-known of the Penitential Psalms, is a psalm commonly associated with Lent. The writer prays for the removal of personal and social sin. So what does Psalm 51 have to say to us in the midst of this holiday season?
Psalm 51 is attributed to King David after being confronted by the prophet Nathan about his affair with Bathsheba. David prays: “Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot out my offense. Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me (1-2) Wash me, make me whiter than snow. (7b) A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit.(10)” David’s sins were great indeed. First sleeping with another man’s wife, Bathsheba, then murdering her husband by placing him in harm’s way in the battlefield.
After confessing his sins, the writer goes on to offer God a contrite heart, “For you take no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (16-17)
In verse five, the psalmist writes, “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” This refers to original sin and the sinfulness that is part of human nature.
Our Sinful Nature
The reality is that we are all sinful in our own way and so we are all in need of forgiveness. It might be difficult to recognize this. Our fragile egos cling to the illusion of superiority and fear that to admit sin is to destroy that ego.
David needed the prophet Nathan to point out his sinfulness and push him to seek to be reconciled with God. As king, he could easily have persisted in insisting that he was above the law, that all things were legal to him as king. He showed his humility and true greatness by admitting to his wrongs and seeking reconciliation with God, asking God to restore him. “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. (12); Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. (8)”
David recognizes that while in a sinful state, he was away from God. There was no joy in his life. “Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.” (11)
Learning to Recognize and Admit our Sins
One of the benefits of getting older is the ability to more readily recognize our own sinfulness and ask forgiveness. This is not a given because some continue to have blinders throughout their life and remain unwilling to recognize, much less admit, their sins. But for those who have consciously tried to be self-aware throughout their adult years, the reward is becoming more aware in old age, more able to admit our sins and seek reconciliation. As we age, we have greater ego strength that allows us to admit we were wrong.
This can be essential over the holidays as families gather. Old issues and feuds can erupt causing heartache. Being with parents and siblings can bring back to the surface, feelings and patterns we may have thought we had left behind as adults. Once brought to the surface and recognized, there is the opportunity for healing and reconciliation on a deeper level.
Preparing for Christmas and Family Gatherings
The writer of Psalm 51 asks God for a contrite heart. He accepts full blame for his offenses, sincerely asks God’s forgiveness and offers God his very heart. What better way to prepare for Christmas than first, seeking reconciliation with God, then with those whom we may have hurt during our lives?
The ability to admit to our past failings, seek forgiveness, and put those sins behind us, may be the greatest gift we can give to others and ourselves this Christmas.
Do you need to seek reconciliation this holiday season? What blinders are keeping you from recognizing your need for forgiveness? Pray to God to remove those blinders from your eyes. (For a different take on Psalm 51, click here.)
This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and and receive a free copy of Still Dancing, the second book in my Dancing through Life Series. click here to sign up
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