Reflections: Psalm 51:1–4 The New International Version

1 Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity

and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight;

so you are right in your verdict

and justified when you judge.

It keeps us awake some nights and makes us toss and turn. We tell ourselves it’s okay and we justify our bad behaviour but it doesn’t go away for long and it makes us ashamed and full of sorrow. It also makes us want to hide that part of ourselves from public view. Our integrity is compromised and our joy in life is diminished as our own inner thoughts and conscience condemns us. 

We pray God will set us free from the shame and torment but we wonder if we can ever be forgiven. We beg, saying: Have mercy on me, O God according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion. The Psalmist knows there is forgiveness and freedom from guilt in God but he is working out how he can attain it. We have a tendency to cry for justice but justice is the very thing that condemns us and so the writer cries out hoping God will judge in mercy and with his great compassion and unfailing love. It is important not to pass over these attributes of God quickly. As we ponder them we can sense the pain and shame lift from us. God is a God who showed great mercy. He is not a legalistic God who cries out “You made your bed now lie in it”.  Instead he says I want the best for you and I want you to be happy in all that’s good so I will show mercy and you can have a new beginning. This is simply one aspect of his unfailing love. He never lets us down and there is no limit to his love. Remember he sacrificed his own Son to save us. So our sins are blotted out and we are free from condemnation.

The writer laments: For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. God does not give us an invitation to ignore our sin or to try to justify them. Rather God asks us to face our sin but not to wallow in the guilt of our sin. Let’s look at the complete ugliness of sin. At it’s sharpest we acknowledge that all sin is primarily sin against God himself. He alone is pure and holy and so we admit we all deserve whatever bad things that come to us. God would be justified to punish us harshly for turning our backs on him and tainting the beautiful plan he has for the earth but he doesn’t do it. Instead He offers opportunity for us to repent and start again with a clean slate.

It’s good to know God wants to give you a good night’s sleep and a carefree day. Give thanks that God is forgiving and that he wants to see us free to live life to the fullest in harmony with him and our neighbors.

Rev. Calvin Brown