Monday, July 23, 2007

Psalm 51: Forgiveness

If the universe wasn't ruled by a God of forgiveness, there would be no Psalm 51. It would be an act of self-destructive irrationality to stand before the One who controls it all and admit that you've willingly rebelled against his commands; but that's exactly what David does. He embraces the two realities that if understood and acted upon, will fundamentally transform your life. The narrative of redemption, that is the core content of Scripture, is the story of the interaction of these two themes. They provide the sound and smoke of the drama of life in this fallen world.

These two themes are, in fact, the major themes of every system of philosophy or religion. They come to us in two questions that somehow, someway, everyone asks. What is people's biggest most abiding problem? (Or, why do people do the things they do?) And, how will this problem ever get solved? (Or, how does lasting change in a person take place?) The thing that separates one worldview from another is that each worldview gives a different answer to each question.

By coming to God with humble words of confession, David demonstrates that he's embraced the unique answers that God (in his Word) gives to these universally asked questions. What's wrong with people? The Bible is very clear and very simple; the answer is sin. The Bible directs us to look inside of ourselves and not outside. The Bible calls us to admit that we are our greatest problem. And the Bible chronicles how sin within distorts our thoughts, desires, choices, actions, and words. But the Bible does more. It shows us how sin puts us at war with God. It demonstrates to us how sin causes us to want to be self-sovereigns and our own law givers. Scripture pictures what happens when we try to set up our own little claustrophobic kingdoms of one, rather than living for the kingdom of God. The Bible requires each of us to accept, at the most practical of levels, that we have profound moral flaws within us that we can do absolutely nothing in ourselves to solve.

But David's words of confession prove that David has embraced something else. He comes because he really does believe that there's hope and help to be found. He knows that admitting sin is not a death sentence. He knows that, although he can't solve his greatest problem, there's a place where the solution can be found. The only hope for sinners is forgiveness. To put it even more forcefully, the only hope for sinners is that the One who's in charge of the universe is a God of forgiveness. The bottom line is this; if God is unwilling to forgive, we're doomed. But he's willing! The story that winds its way across the pages of the Bible is a story of God's active willingness to forgive. He controls the forces of nature and directs human history to bring the universe to the point where the Final Priest, the Sacrificial Lamb, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ comes to earth, lives a perfect life, and gives himself as a sacrifice for our sins. All of this is done so that our deepest problem (sin) will find its only solution (forgiveness) without God compromising his character, his plan, or his law in any way.

The content of the Bible is the worst of news (you're a sinner) and the best of news (God is willing to forgive). It's only when you're ready to admit the worst that you then open yourself up to what's best. All of this means that you and I don't have to live in denial and avoidance. We don't have to play self-excusing logic games with ourselves. We don't have to give ourselves to systems of penance and self-atonement. We don't have to point the finger of blame at others. We don't have to perform our way into God's favor. No, we can come to him again and again just as we are, flawed, broken, and unclean and know that he'll never turn away anyone who comes to him and says, "I have sinned, won't you in your grace forgive?"

There's no sin too great, there's no act too heinous, and there's no person beyond hope. The offer is open and free. There's no requirement of age, gender, ethnicity, location, or position. God welcomes you to come. He only asks that you admit your sin and you seek what can only be found in him, forgiveness. He is able, he is willing, and with grace that we will maybe never be able to fully grasp, he says, "Come."

Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears
The Bleeding Sacrifice in my behalf appears
Before the throne my surety stands my name is written on His hands

He ever lives above, for me to intercede
His all redeeming love, His precious blood to plead
His blood atoned for all our race And sprinkles now the throne of grace

Five bleeding wounds He bears, received on Calvary
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry “Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One
He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son
His Spirit answers to the blood And tells me I am born of God

My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear
With confidence I now draw nigh And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

(Arise, My Soul, Arise by Charles Wesley)

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