Lessons from Psalm 51 for the Summit

“…A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”

Psalm 51 was the result of a sex crime. It should have been the theme of the summit of bishops in Rome. The abuse, it’s cover-up, and the pain it has caused cannot be undone. More transparency, apologizing to the victims and their families, offers of compensation, are all the right things to do, but won’t undo the damage.

Only a renewed spirit on the part of the clergy as a result of repentance, contrition, and humility will solve the abuse crisis:

“For you do not desire sacrifice or I would give it; a burnt offering you would not accept. My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn” (vss. 18-19).

It is interesting that David’s self-reflection on his transgressions, specifically adultery and murder, do not include a mention of either one. The gravity of killing someone’s husband so you can take his wife was less of a crime against Uriah and Bathsheba than a grievous disobedience of God’s law. God sent the prophet Nathan to David charging,

“Why have you despised the LORD and done what is evil in his sight?” ( 2 Samuel 12:9).

In the Psalm David acknowledges this:

“Against you, you alone have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your eyes” (vs. 6a).

Of course while what he personally did to Uriah and Bathsheba was horrendous, and he couldn’t undo the damage; yet it was God who was ultimately offended and who was the one who could have inflicted eternal punishment upon David for what he did. Misdeeds of the flesh among the clergy of today, whether by commission or omission, are misdeeds against God, who will justly respond. David confesses his crimes, offering no defense, and is prepared for the just sentence:

“…So that you are just in your word, and without reproach in your judgment” (vs. 6b).

But David holds out hope for God’s mercy, recalling that in spite of being a sinner from birth, God had reached out to him and blessed him with wisdom:

“Behold, I was born in guilt, in sin my mother conceived me. Behold, you desire true sincerity; and secretly you teach me wisdom” (vss. 7-8).

David’s plea for mercy and forgiveness is at the same time a prayer for cleansing and renewal:

“Turn away your face from my sins; blot out all my iniquities. A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit”.

“Do not drive me from before your face, nor take from me your holy spirit. Restore to me the gladness of your salvation; uphold me with a willing spirit” (vss. 11-14).

This restoration of “gladness” leads to praise:

“I will teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you”.

“Rescue me from violent bloodshed, God, my saving God, and my tongue will sing joyfully of your justice” (vss. 15-16).

After David’s confesses his sin to Nathan, the Prophet replies, “For his part, the LORD has removed your sin” (2 Samuel 12:13).


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