Psalm 51: 1-17

Coming face-to-face with one’s own sin is not easy to do. This psalm’s content has been traditionally ascribed to King David, struggling with his irresponsible actions in regard to Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. David, succumbing to using his position by seducing Bathsheba, then ordered her husband Uriah to the war “front” so that he would be killed. The prophet Nathan confronts David with his sin and he apparently is struck with remorse (2 Samuel 11-12).

Remorse is first cousin to repentance. The word implies a deep regret under awareness of having committed a wrong. Literally, re morse comes from the Latin, which means a “biting back.” The word is a keen reminder that, for those of us who have a sense of wrong and right, there is an enduring “sharp return” within us—a recurring memory and a deep sorrow for having injured or wronged.

In the sixth verse the psalmist identifies the importance of being truthful with ourselves—as well as our Maker—and describes our “secret heart”—the place where we privately come to terms with sins we cannot voice out loud—for fear of being rejected. The next affirmation in the prayer is that we can be made clean (purged) by our repentance—and the cleansing of a merciful God (v.1).

The writer (on his knees?) struggles with hope and fear: the hope that he/she will be forgiven, and the fear that God will withdraw the divine relationship—and grace (v.11-12). The regretful worshiper also asserts that God (Creator) can create a “right spirit” within the transgressor—making a new person of her/him. Such a transformation will evoke in the sinner (us) the gift of witnessing to God’s grace (v.13), renew the lost joy of a safe relationship with God, and create a desire to praise God for the power of being restored to fellowship with the Maker.

We all need that. In our “secret heart” we wrestle with the fear that we have done the unforgivable, and that God’s spirit has departed from us. Not so.\

Daniel G. Bagby