Psalms 51 is David’s prayer after Nathan’s announcement of God’s judgement upon him for the cluster of offenses David committed in his one-night stand with Bathsheba. One of the things that endears this psalm is its brutal honesty. Convicted of his sin, David cries out to God in his shame and embarrassment realizing that there is no way to turn back the clock and undo the damage he has done.
For at least 9 months David had wrestled with his guilt, hoping no one would bring up his errors in judgement (2 Samuel 11). Then came the moment of confrontation where Nathan artfully tells a story that serves as a metaphor for the heinous nature of David’s sin (2 Samuel 12). At the point of confrontation David had at least two choices to make. Option one would be to deflect responsibility, blame someone else, minimize the offense and pretend it wasn’t as bad as Nathan had assumed.
Lance Armstrong is a most recent popular public example of someone who refused to accept responsibility–until he was caught–while blaming others, minimizing the offense and claiming that everyone else was doing it. From the double-speak of government officials who ‘accept full responsibility’ while they deny having played any significant role to the playgrounds where children learn to deflect and deny early in life, it is human nature to want to avoid the painful consequences of one’s behavior.
It is the second option that we long to hear from the offender but is rarely chosen: a penitent, broken heart, an humble attitude and full acceptance of responsibility with an honest attempt at restitution for damages. This was the option chosen by David, a man after God’s own heart, when he cries out before God and Nathan: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:12).
In this Psalm, note the locus of activity: have mercy on me…blot out my transgressions…wash away my iniquity…cleanse me from my sin…cleanse me…wash me…let me hear joy and gladness…hide your face from my sins…blot out all my iniquity…create in me a pure heart…renew a steadfast spirit within me…restore to me the joy…grant me a willing spirit.
It is only when David declares his total, complete dependence upon God’s action in verses 1-12 that he is able to talk about his own activity in verses 13-17: I will teach…my tongue will sing…my mouth will declare. Then, he offers what he has to God: a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart.
One of the most powerful presentations I have heard on this psalm is by Voddie Baucham on the topic of Brokenness.
Click HERE for the entire 6-part series on YouTube.
From the public relations perspective of damage control it is refreshing to see government officials and corporate representatives accept responsibility for mistakes. Obviously, at least part of the reason for refusing this option has to do with the threat of liability lawsuits and criminal prosecution. On the personal level, however, an effort at ‘coming clean’ and accepting the consequences of wrong choices can go a long way towards opening the door to forgiveness, reconciliation and growth.