What I Overlooked in Psalm 51

A few weeks ago I sat in Jon and Emily Royal’s oh-so-familiar backyard (eating deliciously familiar popcorn), while a handful of YFC friends and neighbors read and talked through Psalm 51. I have always loved this psalm (probably because I have an over-active conscience that frequently lands me in a swamp of guilt), as praying this psalm has often brought peace to my tornado of a mind.

As we read and read again around the circle, with minor pauses for well and not-so-well timed jokes, as per usual, I noticed the typically comforting lines within this psalm that I have prayed many times. I have spent quite a bit of time wrestling angstily in prayer, but I cannot recall a time when I could not pray “have mercy on me, oh God.”

However, my guilt-focused (and basically self-focused) perspective, which simply sought relief from guilt in this passage, was stripped down and redressed by the thoughts of my peers. I believe it was Jon and Trenae, among a few others, who noted that this Psalm contains more than a massively guilty plea for forgiveness. David not only demonstrates his disgust toward his own sin and his desire to be freed from it, but he requests thorough redemption without hesitancy.

Create in me a pure heart, Lord, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, Lord, and do not remove your Spirit from me. Grant me a willing spirit, sustain me, and I will draw sinners back to you. Lord, open my lips to declare your praise.

The work of Christ does not begin and end with confession and forgiveness but is equally laced with life. Redemption is inherent even to the very process of forgiveness, as a contrite heart is restored and made capable of joy and praise and the work of the kingdom.

I am heartbroken when I or those around me experience the gospel insofar as we reach the relief of forgiveness, but we bury our feet into this place of self-deprecating sinner’s shame more so than we ever entertain the idea of redemption (which is insured by the death-defeating power of Christ).

I say none of this to minimize David’s visceral experience of repentance, but to point out that his repentance propelled him toward redemption, purpose and unprotected transparency before God and others. I pray that we, as a church, can be similarly compelled toward transparency and restoration, rather than private shame, in the face of our personal or corporate repentance.