Psalm 51: The Amazing Grace of Self-Knowledge
I have counseled people for many years and one of the things that has impressed me over and over again is how self-deluded people (including me) can be. It's amazing how hard it is to see ourselves with accuracy. It's been my experience over and over again that we see the other person with a fairly high degree of accuracy, but can't seem to see ourselves with the same precision. I've had angry people get quite angry when I would suggest that they were angry! I've had controlling people posit that they thought themselves to be quite serving. I've watched vengeful people seem unaware that they lived to settle the score with others. I've worked with men who are eaten with the cancer of lust, tell me that sex wasn't a big struggle for them. I've had bitter wives give me the litany of ways they thought that they were loving their husbands. I've counseled a gymnasium full of teenagers who really did think that they were wiser than the surrounding authorities. I've sat with ungracious and legalistic pastors and heard them talk of their allegiance to a theology of grace.
Why are we so deluded? The reasons are many. We make the mistake of comparing ourselves to the diluted standards of the surrounding culture; standards that fall far below God's will for us. We also make the mistake of comparing ourselves to others; always able to find someone who appears to be more sinful than we are. We spend so much time arguing for a righteousness that it leaves little time to reflect on the reality of remaining sin. Add to all of this the basic nature of sin. Sin is deceitful. It hides, it defends itself, it wears masks, it bends its shape into more acceptable forms, it points fingers of blame, and it even questions the goodness of God. Sin always first deceives the person who is sinning the sin.
So, since sin is by its very nature deceitful, we need help in order to see ourselves with accuracy. Another way to say this is that personal spiritual insight is the result of community. We don't get it all by ourselves. We need ministry of two communities in order to see ourselves with the kind of surgical clarity with which David speaks in this Psalm. First, we need community with God. He's the ultimate opener of blind eyes. Through the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit we begin to see ourselves with accuracy and become willing to own up to what we see. But the Spirit uses instruments and this is where the second community comes in. God employs people in the task of giving sight to other people. For David, that was the prophet Nathan. With the skill of a seasoned pastor, he got inside of David's defenses and told him a story designed to engage his heart and stimulate his conscience. Through the words of this wise man and through the lens of this simple story, David's heart broke as he saw who he was and what he'd done.
There's a whole lot of people who are blindly stumbling their way through life. But their blindness is made even more powerful and dangerous by the fact they they tend to be blind to their blindness. A physically blind person is never blind to his blindness. He's immediately confronted with the fact that he's unable to see and he gives himself a whole catalog of ways of living inside the boundaries set by this profound physical deficiency. The scary reality is that one of the things that keeps spiritually blind people blind is that they're not only convinced that they see, but they're convinced that they see quite well! And so they don't seek help for their blindness. Why see help for a condition from which you're convinced you don't suffer?
So, you know whenever you encounter a person who sees him or herself with precision, clarity, and accuracy, you know for sure that grace has visited them. It's only God's grace that can enable blind eyes to see and it's only God's grace that can produce in us the willingness to accept what we've seen.
From the very first words of Psalm 51, you know you're reading the words of a man of unusual personal insight. From the beginning you know you're listening to a man who's humble and clear. People simply don't usually talk about themselves with such clear and self-indicting words. And so you know this man's been visited by a God of grace and one of his tools of grace, because sinners simply don't arrive at this kind of clarity alone.