Friday, February 15, 2013

Psalm 51 Needs More

Psalm 51 was one of the Ash Wednesday scriptures. I wouldn’t want to say that you haven’t fully experienced the amazing peace of forgiveness if you haven’t first felt in your heart the ache of sin—the sin that has hurt people, made a mess of things, and made you afraid for your relationship with God. Nor would I, for obvious reasons, recommend sin and error as a prelude for a relationship to God (Romans 6:1-2). But Psalm 51 is a wonderful assurance when you’ve stumbled (or, perhaps more commonly, that you just feel very inadequate and "beat up on yourself" a lot). Sometimes we stumble publicly, as did David, more often our failures are comparatively private but our consciences dog us.

What the psalm may lack, though, is a very strong assurance of God’s forgiveness, which, after all, hard to see if you’re troubled. It's a prayer from the perspective of the sinner, but there are scriptural assurances that should be read along with the prayer, for instance Romans 7:24-25, where the assurances of Christ's salvation of lost, broken people is affirmed. If you’re in (what I call) a “Psalm 51 state of mind,” you need to simultaneously keep firmly in mind that we have forgiveness and restoration already through Christ. You need to remember that just because you feel very badly, that God doesn't feel the same way about you as you do about yourself.

In fact, recently I read a book that made an interesting point from a different angle. The author noted how afraid he had once felt concerning Matthew 25:46 and its promise of eternal punishment. What a terrible fate lay in store for people who denied Jesus unwittingly! But the author realized … by the criteria of Matthew 25:46, Jesus’ disciples were all heading to Hell! Soon after this passage, they all denied and forsook him, not by failing to help the needy, but in the literal sense: they abandoned him in his most desperate time. But what happens?  Jesus appears to them, loves them, and promises his eternal companionship (Matt. 28:20).(1) Passages like this are also great assurances that God never ever gives up on us, no matter how badly we've messed up.

1.  Matthew Linn, Sheila Fabnicant Linn, and Dennis Linn, Understanding Difficult Scriptures in a Healing Way (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2001), chapter 2.

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