Have You Ever Felt Such Guilt? This Psalm Rings In New Hope!

This is a powerful lament by David. It is one of the seven penitential psalms and it is a deeply moving prayer for forgiveness. It expresses a recognition of guilt and a faith in God’s mercy. It can be a very useful prayer for any of us when we realize our failings and desire to be reconciled with God. This psalm was composed by David after the prophet Nathan came to him about what he had done with Bathsheba, and her husband. He could no longer hide his sin, for it was there before him. His lament has two main parts within it and ends with an expression of hope.

The first part recognizes that our sins are not only damaging to us and to those we have sinned against, but that our sins are ultimately against God and that he has a right to judge us: “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.” (verse 4) Yet at the very heart of this lament is the deeper recognition that God’s love is infinite and unfailing in compassion. David turns to God in profound sorrow, in need of God’s forgiveness. He cries out for God’s mercy, desiring to have his sins washed away. He wishes to be made clean again, to once again know joy. He knows that his sins have separated him from God, and he yearns to see God’s face again.

Have we not felt such loss and yearning ourselves? Yet this psalm is deeply rooted in hope. David’s faith reveals that we can trust that our cries for mercy and for reconciliation will not go unheard. It is one of the greatest gifts of our faith to know that God’s love is greater than any, I say it again, any of our sins. David’s sins were great indeed. When Nathan confronted him with his sins he could have despaired of God’s mercy. Rather, he recognized his sins in the pure light of humility. He turned to God with true sorrow, his heart full of humble contrition. And so can we. Trust in God’s mercy conquers despair.

In the second part of the psalm, David is seeking something more profound than just the “feeling” of being forgiven. “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” David’s desire (like ours) is to once again be near to God. He wants to return to God and to conduct every part of his life in the ways of God. David is showing us and important truth here. Our contrition is not complete until we desire and begin to practice living our lives, in public and in private, in ways that only give honor to God’s love, mercy, kindness and compassion. This is how we give thanks for God’s great mercy. Sin is selfish. Guilt is the gift of humility. What then would be an appropriate response to God’s magnanimous mercy? “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.” If our contrition is true, with God’s grace we will pick ourselves up and begin again to take up the hard work of willingly and joyfully living in God’s ways with all of our hearts, our minds, our bodies, and our souls. This, God “will not despise.” (verse 17)

Lord, your love and mercy are beyond our finite understanding. Yet, it is in the light of your free and generous gift of faith that we trust in your love and yearn for mercy. We know our sins, Lord, but it is with humble and contrite hearts that we turn back to you, in need of your great mercy. Renew our spirits within us. With your grace make our hearts steadfast. Help us to give you thanks by freely and joyfully living sacrificial lives of holy generosity and genuine mercy towards our families, our friends, our neighbors and even those who are our enemies. We ask these things in your name, Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.