#10 of a Series on Psalm 50
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” Psalm 50:3
Today’s theme builds upon the previous ones, where we are seeking forgiveness of sins from within the depths of our soul, but seemingly can never escape them. This causes a kind of desperation that can lead us to many different thoughts and behaviors. Perhaps the most common is to flee! David acknowledges his sin not just once, but again and again. In this psalm, which has been effectively a source of public use in worship for going on three millennia – the whole world knows David’s sin – there’s no escaping it![i]
Flee the Fire!
The energy inside created by guilt makes us want to flee from it. But it’s inside us; we can’t crawl out of our own skin. ‘Skin’ here is an interesting term, as the Fathers of the church frequently used it as akin to the biblical use of ‘the flesh’. We feel like we are literally clothed in our sinfulness as well as having a sinful heart. Hence the purification of baptism not only brings forgiveness interiorly, but makes us part of the Body of Christ, in His flesh which renews us.[ii]
Fleeing from sin, before we commit it, is a good thing! There are a dozen or so exhortations in the New Testament to that effect. In the Old Testament, we have the wonderful story of Joseph, fleeing the ensnarement of lustful temptation by Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39). So fleeing works, until one lingers long enough and the trap snaps shut and the laggard is trapped in sin. And as above, this is not just an external entrapment – although many sins like theft, have legal consequences. But the entrapment is really one of the soul, which is then unable to flee. We can hear David echo this sentiment in Psalm 55:6 6I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest!
We have many images of what this entrapment looks like – in phrases like the ‘clutches of the Devil’. Again elsewhere in the Psalms, David says, ‘The chains of death encompass me.’ Psalm 116:3. In these word pictures we begin to see how, when sin is inside of us its presence is felt immediately, powerfully, and continually. When a person is very ill and dying, she is often brought to the place where the only thing on her mind is her illness – it is all consuming. The sickness of the body invades the mind and the heart. The sickness of sin works in a similar way and because all sin leads to death. The Apostle James puts it this way,
“Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished,
it brings forth death.” Jas 1:15
So that inescapable sense of inner sin creates a desperate craving for a release from the grip of its effect which results in death. Nobody really wants to die.
Always Before Me
Hence the sin is “always before me.”. Now again as always, ironically (!) this can, by grace, be seemingly a good thing. The person that feels this has the possibility of taking action to escape this inner suffering due to sin. This is what the ‘prick’ of the conscience does – it makes us uncomfortable – leading to the possibility of repentance and resolution. Like a thorn in the flesh that is ignored goes deeper and becomes more difficult to extricate, while being even more painful and even causing infection, so the sensitivity of our conscience to even seemingly slight sins keeps them before us so we do something to deal with them, not ignore them or self-medicate the pain away.
Our sins take many forms hence the inner symptoms and how we experience them also can be distinctive, although self-loathing and depression are common to many. [iii] One of the most grievous sins of our age – committing or facilitating abortion[iv] – has not only great moral consequences, but also psychological ones. Many who now provide help and counsel to women who have had abortions, report that these women’s experiences of their abortion heavy on their hearts, sometimes for decades. Their sin was ‘ever before them’ and could not be shaken from their minds, their feelings and even their bodies. The beginning of their healing came for many only when the Christian message of salvation was brought to their hearts – the forgiveness of Jesus from the Cross, ‘Father, forgive them.’ (Lk. 23:34)
When the scriptures say that Christ, ‘became sin’ (2Cor.5:21) I think he’s hinting at this idea.[v] Christ so identifies with us in love, through his Incarnate flesh. When you draw close to a large pile of ice or snow you feel it’s cold, and when it is touched you shiver. If you throw yourself into it, stripped of all protection and warmth and lay there, the cold totally envelopes you and penetrates the experience of the moment. The first inclination is of course to flee. But Christ did not abandon us. He stayed that He could draw ever-closer to us and experience the violence to his body and soul that sin brought about. While Christ was without sin, there is all certainty that his flesh fully experienced beyond our imagination sin’s wickedness, its depth, its fury, in his human flesh. The crucifixion was not an illusion. Yet for the One who loves so deeply, He continues to draw closer and closer to us, despite our sins, effectively taking them on himself because that’s what love does – it bears all things.[vi] As life ebbs in the presence of love into human death, new life born of the Spirit can flow back into the beloved soul of the one whom He loves and embraces.
So perhaps even the forgiven penitent, who now experiences the warmth of saving love in the midst of his or her sin, can draw near to God and ‘know’ what the effect of sin is in ways before unknown, because they have experienced this love which draws near and forgives, not just by some pronouncement, but by shared love. And with that love comes a kind of understanding and wisdom, to be lived and shared.
Restoration and Renewal
While the nature of sin is always evil, the Cross shows us that God can bring good from every circumstance – even those wrought with sin. Although David’s illicit relationship with Bathsheba would result in a tragic loss of the child begotten of him, later she would bear his son who would be the ‘Son of David’, Solomon, who was extraordinarily blessed by God and continued the Messianic ancestry line all the way to Jesus. (See Mt. 1) As Joseph reminds his brothers at the end of the book of Genesis, twice actually,
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Gen. 50:20
Perhaps you have seen as I have, situations which were hopelessly ‘evil’, but that God brought forth from those situations something beautiful, marvelous or salvific. So, the addict who was hopeless near death, now on the road to recovery and mercy, becomes the one who is the sponsor and helper to many others seeking to get on that road. The Pregnancy Centers often present us with the examples of a woman who aborted her child now has become the strong, caring voice of wisdom for young women frightened with an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy and a powerful voice for the Right to Life movement. Drawing from the reservoir of God’s mercy through their personal experience, they are able, like Nathan, to speak the truth to others in a vivid, honest and humble way that elicits hope through trusting God in His forgiveness and mercy. +
[i] I’ll make a note here about the notion of public confession which is worth exploring perhaps in more detail at a later time. Public confession/acknowledgement of sin was common in the early Church and our whole canonical discipline of penitentiary remedies was based on this public acknowledgement of one’s sins, which cannot be hidden. For example, the prescription for a person who committed murder was 10 years of excommunication from the Church.
[ii] Hence the Flesh of Christ in the Eucharist is so important to our restoration.
[iii] It’s my opinion that with so many ‘therapeutic’ treatments to dull psychological pain these days, the first reaction to psychic discomfort in life today is medication, leading to abuse of it, addiction and much more pain.
[iv] Not only is abortion profoundly evil in itself, but it is accompanied by legion others – always deception, and what now is an industry of death.
[v] The Crucifixion is a great mystery beyond us. While I’m reluctant to ever delve into the ‘psychology’ of Jesus, it would seem the following does represent the intersection of divine love and sin in the human experience.
[vi] See 1Cor.13