"David's Punishment" by Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld (German artist, 1794-1872), woodcut illustration
Image: “David’s Punishment” by Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld (German artist, 1794-1872), woodcut illustration 

Reflection, Pardon, and Renewal


The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise. May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Psalm 51:17-19


The connection in Psalm 51 between repentance and our success in reaching others with the gospel was noted last week. In his prayer, David also shows us what our hope should be like for the church, too. King David’s hope at the end of the psalm is for the prosperity of Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem.  

While the parallel is not exact in every way, the church of Jesus Christ should be to His followers, as Jerusalem was to David and the Jewish people. We should want our church to prosper. We should want our fellowship to be built up! To this end, during Lent, Psalm 51 helps us examine ourselves and consider if there is anything we can do (or need to stop doing). Are the choices that I have made – or that I am making – building up the church? What impact are my decisions having on the fellowship of believers for whom Christ died?

The walls of Jerusalem were not torn down or damaged during David’s reign – that would come later in Jerusalem’s history. But perhaps David intends a metaphor here, using the image of a ruined Zion, surrounded by breached and damaged walls to illustrate the larger impact of what he did in his sin of adultery and murder and coverup, and its destructive ripples that had gone out through his kingdom. It must have been demoralizing, maybe devastating, for the people of Israel when their great king was exposed for his crime. And now David hopes for a future blessing for Israel along with the pardon that he is seeking from God. In the book of Psalms, the king, the success of his reign, the significance of his blessing, and the consequences of his actions, are often in view.

Like everyone else, I was shocked, saddened, and angered by what took place in our nation’s capital on January 6. Should the president have been held accountable or was he responsible for the actions of the mob, for the destruction and death at the capital? Our former president dismisses the idea, and Americans are divided over the question. King David had no doubts about his own culpability and wanted something better for his nation.

I do not write this to divide us along political lines or rehash recent events but to unite us as Christians and redirect us to the future as the fellowship of our King, Jesus Christ. Psalm 51 is a psalm of His pardoning power. It shows the power of God’s pardon to not only transform us but rebuild relationships and the entire culture around us! Whatever is wrong in our lives, whatever is wrong in our families, whatever is wrong in our church, whatever is wrong in our nation, we can be certain that the fault is in us, not Him! There is a story that the Times of London once ran an essay contest in the early 1900s. The essay question posed: What is Wrong with the World? English author and Christian apologist, GK Chesterton answered with his now famous two-word essay: I am. Lent is a time for seeing, as David did, as Chesterton did, the connection between ourselves and what is wrong in our world.  I want God’s blessing on our fellowship and on our nation but I first need to think about what is wrong with me.

The Path of Lent


Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. … Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me. … Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will turn back to You.
Psalm 51:1-3,9-10,13


In What Are We Doing Here? Marilynne Robinson describes the large segment of our nation who know nothing about religion at all, except what they hear from its very loudest voices, and who are therefore, understandably, secularists (p.54). The loudest voices are rarely the most thoughtful voices. Midway through my sabbatical, and thinking about Robinson’s comment on this first day of Lent, I am pondering Psalm 51. The season of Lent is a time to contemplate the mercy of God and our personal need of it. But what David demonstrates in this psalm of repentance is that honesty before the Lord is not only what I need but it is also the path to helping others know His grace. He envisions teaching “sinners” the ways of God’s mercy and unfailing love and seeing them turn to the Lord but cannot unless he first repents and experiences God’s grace and creative power in his own life. In The Heart of Evangelism, Jerram Barrs sums up the beginning of outreach to others:  Humble prayer will be our starting point (p.131). If we want others to experience the grace of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, this must be our starting point, too. Self-critique in the presence of God is the first step towards renewal by God so that through our voices, others might hear Him speaking.