Recognizing Our Sins


This psalm is, quite powerfully, the cry of a man who has been confronted with the depth and the horror of his own sins. The prophet Nathan has revealed to David what God has revealed to him about David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the death of her husband, Uriah, on the battlefield, at David’s own orders. He can no longer hide from these things, even if he is the king, or more importantly, because he is the king, the one chosen by God, to be the moral leader of his people. This psalm expresses sorrow and a contrition with such intensity and honesty, that we almost cringe for him. Then we realize that this prayer is as much ours as it was David’s.

The tone of David’s prayer is remarkable too. It has the emotional weight of one who sees himself in the very presence of the one he has sinned against. Its power is in its obvious awareness of a very real relationship. David speaks to God here as one who is overwhelmed by what he has done to that relationship by his sinful intentions and actions. But there is also a faith that God’s love is greater than his sins. He expresses a true depth of sorrow that can only arise from the depths of a true relationship. Though David is overwhelmed with his sorrow and shame, he knows at the same time, that he can turn to God, face him in his brokenness, place himself before God’s mercy and that God will, “wash [him] with hyssop, and [he] will be made clean again…and be whiter than snow.” (verse 7)

Are we not all Davids? When we have come to recognize our own sins, have we not wanted to rush to God in tears, to bend our heads to the ground before him, and ask him for his forgiving grace? This is not weakness when we do this. No. Rather, it is a sign of a relationship that is strong enough to experience the utter grief and agony of having failed God and, yet, is deep enough to trust that God’s love is greater than the sin.

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But there is more. David is not just looking for a “quick fix” for the terrible feelings he is experiencing. He knows that, in a relationship, when trust has been damaged, one must work hard not only to restore one’s own dignity, but also to “do penance” for what one has done to damage that relationship. David says, “Restore me to the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.” (verses 12-13) This a deep recognition of the economy of love. David has come to see in the very depths of his soul the terrible effects of his sins. He has turned to God in his sorrow and need for forgiveness. He trusts in God’s gracious mercy. He has learned his lesson. In thanksgiving, he promises to teach others the power of God’s ways, so that they, too, will turn to him and find salvation from their sins.

Finally, David realizes that his faith requires more of him than the trappings of ritual sacrifices. He knows that God is not interested in such things. David has grown through his experience enough to finally be able to say to God in all sincerity, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (verse 17) Let David be an example for all of us in this. God’s love is greater than our transgressions. Thanks be to God. Turn to God in your need and he will answer you and make you clean again. In Jesus’ name. 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.