August 31, 2007

The Illogic of Psalm 51

Posted in The Church at 3:42 pm by Caleb Winn

King David cries out, “Against you, you only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight!”

Surely Uriah the Hittite would have something to say about that? You know… the guy that David murdered? The guy whose wife David stole? Surely David had sinned against him!

How can I claim that I have sinned against God alone, when my sins so clearly hurt others? And how can I forgive myself when the scars of my sins are etched onto the hearts of those I claim to love?

(This is not to say that it is appropriate to demand forgiveness of others. By its very nature, forgiveness cannot be demanded. One cannot claim a “right” to forgiveness. And if one does demand it, attempting to guilt the offended party into forgiving him or her, is that not wrong? To say “I won’t be happy unless you forgive me” is both manipulative and selfish, and perpetuates the original sin. It’s the conversational equivalent of holding a gun to one’s own head and saying, “Love me or I’ll shoot!” God forgive me if I ever have that in my heart.)

And yet, it’s right there in the Bible. David seems to truly believe that His sin was against God, and not his fellow man. And by turning to God in repentance, David found the grace to be forgiven, to forgive himself, even, and to serve God in mighty ways.

This offends my sense of justice, which says that a reckoning must be made for all wrongs committed. In my heart, I feel that it is wrong to be happy once I have made others sad, and that sanctification is an affront against those against whom I have sinned. For if I have behaved wickedly toward a person, but simply move on and become a less wicked person, then surely I am lying, am I not? Isn’t it deceitful to improve, and deny that I am the person who hurt another, that my identity is wrapped up in that sin?

And yet I know that this is false. If man is created in the image of God, then his identity is rooted in the foundation of the divine, and sin is the inauthentic unreality. Neither physical nor emotional suicide is an appropriate response to conviction, for God seeks to transform us, not merely superficially, but inwardly. His demand for Justice is met through the death and resurrection of His Son, and there is no need for me to make impossible restitution for sin. Rather, He calls me to be transformed responsively, and to life a life worthy of the calling that I could not earn.

Perhaps the same is true of offenses committed against others? Perhaps justice does not demand that I remain in a state of depravity, but that I become a less depraved person. If I treat a friend cruelly, I ought not remain cruel, or loath myself for being cruel, but rather stop being so cruel. Perhaps this would bless them most.

But still, surely I have sinned against my friend? And yet David says otherwise, and The Word speaks truth. But I do not understand.

I am truly baffled, and do not know the answer.

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