“Be gracious to me, God, according to your faithful love; according to your abundant compassion, blot out my rebellion.” – Psalm 51:1 (CSB)
When you think of the sweetest, most precious word in the English language, what word comes to your mind?
That’s likely not an easy question for you to answer. However, as I ponder that question, one word comes to my mind…
In my own mind and heart, forgiveness is the sweetest and most powerful word imaginable. In this word is contained a plethora of convictions, truths, and attributes: love, grace, mercy, empathy, compassion, understanding, knowledge, and strength. Those things that are most admirable in the human character are all deeply rooted in the concept of forgiveness.
And yet, the very idea of forgiveness requires, by definition, the committing of some wrong. After all, when we think of being forgiven, the natural question is: for what are we being forgiven? Forgiveness implies an offense – some wrong that has been committed. Isn’t it remarkable how something that binds together all of the best attributes of the human character applies exclusively to situations where the human character has committed a wrong or an offense of some kind?
This reality may seem strange to us, but it is certainly not strange to God. His willingness to forgive is a central attribute of God’s character. That fact is abundantly displayed all throughout the Bible. One of the great gifts the Lord has given to us through His Word is the testimony of Biblical characters who committed terrible sins and yet, through their repentance and turning to the Lord in faith, experienced the wonderful grace and mercy of God. The Bible is filled with individuals who, though human and thus sinful, experienced God’s marvelous grace in moving, profound, and even stunning ways. While the Bible makes it clear that sin is absolutely accompanied by sad and tragic consequences which flow from it, the Bible makes equally clear the gracious and merciful nature of the Lord and His willingness to forgive and restore His children of even the darkest and most destructive of sins.
In Psalm 51, King David – an individual defined in Scripture as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14) and the divinely chosen ruler of His people – begs the Lord for grace and mercy in the aftermath of one of the pivotal moments of David’s life and most infamous of sins committed by any Biblical character: his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband. As Nathan the Prophet confronted his king (2 Samuel 12) and David came to grips with the reality and consequences of his tragic and sinful decision, he cried out to God in the desperate pleas recorded in his Psalm 51 prayer. David’s sins were so heinous that even a sacrifice under the Old Testament covenant could not atone for his actions (Psalm 51:16). Under the law, the prescribed consequence was that he be completely cutoff from the community (Number 15:30-31) – a punishment that, in many cases, meant death for all practical purposes. And yet, in the midst of his desperation, there is a remarkable and striking tone of confidence in David’s request – a confidence in the future receipt of that mercy and grace which he was so desperately begging of God. The question of how David, in such a sinful, vulnerable, and fallen state, could pray so confidently in anticipation of the grace of God being shown to him is worthy of deep reflection.
At surface level, it may be tempting to think that David’s confidence in God’s grace being shown to him was rooted in his station as God’s anointed King of Israel. However, that is unlikely given both the tone of David’s prayer (repentance and humility) and David’s past experience in watching the tragic deterioration of King Saul’s reign before him. The tumultuous and traumatic series of events David witnessed as a member of the royal household during Saul’s reign led David to a profound understanding that his kingship was only secure so long as he was faithful to the Lord – and, in his choices concerning his relationship with Bathsheba, David had clearly failed that test of faithfulness. David had witnessed the tragic consequences that befell Saul and all Israel with him once the old king departed from the will and direction of God. David now stood at the same spiritual crossroads. Accordingly, David’s confidence in the grace and mercy of God could not have been rooted in his own station and high office, but in something far more secure and steadfast.
As David continued in his prayer, he demonstrated and testified that his confidence in the grace and mercy of God was not rooted in his own person or anything he had done, but rather in the very nature of God Himself. When David prayed in verse 1, “Be gracious to me, God,” his request is immediately followed by his rationale for his confidence in that request. Verse 1 continues, “…according to your faithful love; according to your abundant compassion, blot out my rebellion.” David’s pleas for mercy and grace were not based on anything within his own power – they were based entirely on the “faithful love” and “abundant compassion” of God towards His servant – even a servant in the midst of a tragic and terrible sin-sick state. God’s faithful love and abundant compassion endured – and it endures still today toward each and everyone of us who call on Him for mercy and grace.
Just as forgiveness reflects the best convictions and attributes of humanity, so it far more deeply reflects the convictions and attributes of God. In fact, properly understood, forgiveness reflects the best convictions and attributes of humanity because it reflects the convictions and attributes of God. Dear friend, when you don’t feel worthy of the forgiveness of God, others, or even yourself, understand that God’s forgiveness is not rooted in or based upon anything you’ve done to earn it. God’s forgiveness and His grace behind that forgiveness are rooted in and based upon His own perfect, never changing, and all-knowing character. Forgiveness is a natural outflowing of the heart and character of God – and the ultimate expression of God’s love for each and everyone on of us. God’s grace toward and restoration of David evidenced His forgiving, loving, and gracious nature. God’s grace toward and restoration of all of his sinful yet repentant servants throughout human history evidences His forgiving, loving, and gracious nature. And the perfect, sinless sacrifice of His Son – the Lord Jesus Christ – is the ultimate expression of all time – of all human history – of His forgiving, loving, and gracious nature toward all humanity.