Psalm 51

According to a recent survey, 19% of people in the UK have symptoms of depression; and that’s just those honest enough to admit they’re struggling with the condition. The truth is: a lot of people have lost their joy; there’s a deep unhappiness in many a Londoner’s soul.

That’s something of how David felt in the run up to writing Psalm 51; he was miserable, he groaned inside, it felt like his bones had been crushed and broken, as he suffered the crippling effects of unconfessed sin, repressed guilt and shame. Perhaps unconfessed sin accounts for the prevalence of depression, even suicide, in our city and nation today?

They say “confession is good for the soul” but if that’s the case why are so many of us, like David was, possibly for the best part of a year, unwilling to own up to our immoral behavior or rather, our mistakes, since we find that word more palatable. But that just it, isn’t it. In our pride, we want to justify ourselves and make excuses, and in Adamic fashion, blame others or minimize our responsibility. “It wasn’t all my fault” we say, “it was my tough upbringing, or my poor education, or even my genes.”

We mistakenly claim to be victims of circumstances and forces beyond our control. It’s interesting to note how Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods and Al Gore have been absolved of adultery; they have been charitably designated as hapless sufferers of sex addiction.

We arrogantly twist sinful vices into virtues. Anger becomes being honest with your emotions. Lust is expressing your sexual appetites. We also categorise sins into those that are acceptable (e.g. little white lies) and those that are (thankfully still) unacceptable (e.g. child abuse).

Some are even trying to remove the word “sin” from our vocabulary altogether. Did you know that the latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary for children no longer contains that painful yet pivotal three letter word?

And then, we compare ourselves, in Pharisee-like fashion (Luke 18:9-14) with others, “It’s not all that bad, I mean, nobody died right, it’s not like I perpetrated a holocaust, at least I’m not as bad as Hitler.” Really?

The problem with this defensive unwillingness to blush and confess all is that it prevents the pus running out so the infection can actually leave. More importantly, though, it cuts us off from the subject or source of joy itself, or rather Himself, God; the only one who can draw out sin’s poison.

In Psalm 51 David teaches us that we should be open with God and admit our sins, bravely facing the consequences and gaining a truer appreciation of how right and just God is. He teaches us to see the seriousness of sin, that all sin is, above all else, insulting rebellion against a holy, yet, thankfully also, merciful, loving and compassionate God (verses 1, 4).

David’s predecessor Saul blamed others for his disobedience (1 Samuel 15:24), cried tears of worldly sorrow over his sin (more sadness for his loss than Godly grief, 1 Samuel 24:16-22) and merely confesses his wrongdoing without fruit in keeping with repentance (1 Samuel 26:21). He cries and says “I have sinned” yet he continues his jealous persecution of David to his own sad, suicidal end.

In stark contrast, David passionately pleads for mercy, he longs to get right with God, to be a new person, and to declare the wonderful gospel of forgiveness, for which he has a new-found and deeper appreciation, and to sing about it in praise to his Lord.

This is what authentic repentance looks like. It’s why David is called “a man after God’s own heart” – in spite of his sin – and Saul is not. We do well to heed this lesson, for the Christian life is rightly said to be characterised by a life-long daily pattern of “repentance and faith”.

Is your repentance authentic?