“Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!”
We live in a world teeming with differences of opinion, division of races, dissimilarity of cultures, diversity of belief, disagreement of politics, discrepancy of value, detachment of generations, dismemberment of families, dissolution of relationships, disseverance of life, departmentalization of humanity, and disjunctures of faith.
Sadly, even in the priesthood of all believers, too often the connective faith tissue of the love of God, others, and self seems to be diminishing with every news break, reported church hurt, political campaign, or relationship statistic.
In times like these I find myself resorting to songs or poetry about beauty, peace, and love like Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Sonnet 43):
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
This poetic reflection about deep, abiding love reminds me of David’s dilemma in the focus text, Psalm 51: David’s lessons about the enduring love of God, and our responsibility as children of a loving God, to reflect, repent, rededicate, remember and renew - to renew our covenant, our contract, our relationship with God when we are unfaithfully violating our responsibilities.
Psalm 51 is a lament, a song of distress and apology following David’s actions. David, king of both Judah and Israel in a consolidated kingdom, has renamed Jerusalem as his capital city. He has built his palace - drawing consulting architects for a Temple, defeating all the surrounding enemies, commanding his military generals, but staying in the capital sleeping late, lavish dinners, shopping sprees, golfing. It is good to be the king.
One night, he is cruising around his rooftop and sees a poor woman on another rooftop ceremonially bathing. She does not have the privilege of complete privacy. David is struck by her beauty and sends messengers to find out who she is – to get to know her identity. Bathsheba was married to a warrior, Uriah the Hittite. That should have been the end of his interest, but it is not. Looking for a conquest, not a wife or an affair, David sends for her, impregnates her, and then returns her to her home. When she cleanses herself, she goes home.
Learning Bathsheba is pregnant, David orders Uriah home, tries to get him drunk, anticipating he will fall sleep with his wife and assume the child is his. Uriah is so loyal to the king, he is sent back to battle and David orders him to be killed and make it look like he is a casualty of war. When she is officially informed of Uriah’s death in battle, Bathsheba mourns for her husband.
David, on the other hand, does not even bother to go through the pretense of mourning. When Bathsheba’s one month of honest mourning is complete, David sends for her and marries her. David does not conceal his sin, he legitimizes it - probably in a public rally or a news conference.
The prophet Nathan (all of us need a Nathan in our life, at least someone who will honestly tell us when we have messed up) begins to tell the king of a story about a rich man and a poor man in a city. The rich man has it all. The poor man has one ewe lamb, cared for as if it was his child. Serving dinner for a visitor, the rich man did not want to use one of his own sheep, so he gives the poor man’s lamb and serves it. David was furious, pronouncing judgment of death on the rich man, and Nathan simply says, “You are that man.” No pity, no remorse, no apology, no guilt, no repentance. Like a petulant two-year-old, you took what belonged to someone else just because you felt like you could. You took what belonged to another just because you wanted it, had others do your dirty work of killing Uriah. Even taking a grieving woman, the wife of another, who was minding her own business but knew it was a death sentence to refuse the king. God has given you everything, but greed and hubris have made you want more and more and more. Acting like a malignant narcissist - more like that than the apple of God’s eye - these actions will come back to haunt you, David.
How many times have we been like David? How many times have we pushed aside our relationship with God for fleeting pleasure or self-aggrandizement? How many times have we taken what belongs to someone else - an idea, a thought, a principle, an answer, a friend, a position, a space, a moment of humanity, a feeling? How many times have we killed something without compunction - a dream, a vision, respectability, personhood, hope? How many times have we covered up something to benefit ourselves - violated a confidence, gossip, lie, theft, prejudice, self-interest, spiritual plagiarism?
David in the text begins to think about something wrong deep in his being. He evidently had a heart disorder, a circulatory problem something that was cutting off oxygen to his brain. He forgot who he was and whose he was. Perhaps the power and the heights and the praise he had reached began to asphyxiate his soul. Perhaps his possessions spastically blinded him to the one to whom he owed his life. Perhaps he thought the adulation of the masses – the tens of thousands who rallied whenever he showed up deafened him to the call of God on his life. Perhaps the culture of affluenza regardless of consequences led him to write an executive order at midnight exempting him from a moral compass. Perhaps he had become callous, cynical, disaffected when the number of mass deaths skyrocketed because it had no direct effect on his family.
Whatever happened, there was a weight in his soul. He had a type of heart disease. Hadn’t he indicated an illness in Psalm 32? “When I refused to confess my sin, my whole body wasted away _while I groaned in pain all day long. For day and night, you tormented me; you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer.” Something had been blocking his connection to the source of his life. Something had narrowed his ability to discern right and wrong. Something had stiffened his faith walk. David had a case of spiritual arrhythmia, rushing at a dizzying pace to fulfill his pleasures, out of sync with his knowledge of what was right and wrong. Sin had compromised his once-agile body. The more David denied the evil, the more he allowed it to take over his life, and debilitated his heart.
Soon he was infected with pericarditis or myocarditis or endocarditis all at once with a virus he could no longer avoid seeking to live a life-saving life. Arrogant, selfish attitude, pride - he was on the brink of congestive heart failure. David begins to reflect on his sin, his repentance, and his recovery in that lament in Psalm 51.
Not an “I’m sorry” just so someone will leave us alone, let us back in a comfortable position. Not a superficial expression, but a heartfelt apology. A deep place he had to go that only he and God would know about the conversation.
I can almost imagine the breathlessness as he began the personal journey toward heart health. Addressing God, describing his distress, pleading for redemption, a statement of confidence, a confession of sin, a pledge, a vow to do better.
**Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love! You, God, are the supreme judge. I am throwing myself on the mercy of the court. God, I need you right now. I love you God and I know you love me. God, you have shown me love over and over and over again; you showed me favor when I wasn’t worthy. You even kept me in the face of all my Goliaths. When Saul wanted to kill me, you were there, God; when my enemies tried to defeat me, you were there, God.
Wipe away all my wrongdoings according to your great compassion! Take pity on me, God, take away my sins. I don’t even deserve parole. I want whatever punishment is coming to me. I was wrong, God, you already know it. I tried to hide my sin, but you know everything.
Clean me up, God. Move the infection out of my being; help me to reconnect with who I am and remember who you are. Forgive me, take away my sins. I can’t run away from what I have done - I have killed a man; he did not do a thing to me, I wanted what he had. I took it, I turned my back on everything you have done for me. I pretended I had no accountability partners. I disregarded all that you taught me. I violated your trust, squandered your gifts and talents. I acted like I thought I was you, God.
I’ve sinned against you and **you_ alone. I committed evil in your sight. I knew better and I did it anyway. Use your most stringent cleansing agent to take away my sin. Spiritually make me whole again. Whatever your punishment, I deserve the sentence. I need to sing and dance and create and live again. I want to go back to the joy I knew when I first discovered your goodness and your grace.
With a weakened heart, I believe David understood he needed emergency spiritual bypass. That’s why he says from the depth of his being…
Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me! Lord, I need a healthy heart. Remove whatever is disrupting my relationships. I will consecrate myself, God – no turning back to the world of sin. I will rededicate my life to you and follow all your directions.
Musicologist Margaret Pleasant Douroux in 1970 wrote:
Give me a clean heart
So I may serve Thee
Lord, fix my heart so that I
May be used by Thee,
For I’m not worthy
Of all these blessings;
Give me a clean heart and I’ll follow Thee.
David’s conviction provides a lesson on the purpose and power during a period of introspection and confession and, yes, consecration. It is about working to remove anything, anybody, any distraction that separates us from God.
It is about heart health. This is personal. This is between each of us and God. We have to enter our personal prayer closets and tell God all that what we have done and ask God to give us healthy hearts that we are enable to do what God wants us to do in this world.
A divine cure for heart conditions means, if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. All God asks is that we repent – to feel or express sincere regret or remorse for our wrongdoings – to come clean before God.
David remembered what we even in 2022 must understand: a divine cure for heart conditions is seeded in repentance. Without repentance, there is no hope. Without repentance, there is no faith. Without repentance, there is no need to go and make disciples. Without repentance, weeping endures. Without repentance, there is no eternal life. Without repentance, there is no reconciliation. Without repentance, hell is our destination. Without repentance, there is no savior. Without repentance, there is no healing. Without repentance, there is no need for the Holy Spirit. Without repentance, there is no forgiveness. Without repentance, there is no atonement. Without repentance, there is no tomorrow. Without repentance, sin abounds. Without repentance, death is our final answer.
Time to get our lives back together. Time to dump anything that is not of God. Can you hear Paul echoing across the ages, knowing what David meant? He says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander and every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ in God forgives _us.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
The good news is God is calling us to heart health. Our prayer, like David’s: create in me a clean heart; renew a right spirit within me. Transform us, God. This world is not what you made it. Transform us, God. Help us to be in love and charity with each other. Transform us, God. Do the work that you can do. Cure us of heart conditions. Change our xenophobia to zeal, our yelping to yes, our exclusion to expectancy, our withdrawal to watchfulness, our violence to vision, our usurpation to understanding, our tragedy to triumph, our superficiality to sincerity, our resistance to redemption, our qualms to quests. Change our prevarication to prayer, our oppression to oneness, our neglect to nurture, our manipulation to mercy, our lethargy to liberality, our killing to kindness.
Please God, cleanse us. Make our jealousy into judiciousness, our intolerance into impartiality, our hostility into humanitarianism, our greed to generosity, our fallaciousness to fulfillment, our elitism to equality, our destruction to deliverance, our chaos to calm, our bigotry to benevolence, our apathy, our apathy, our apathy to action. Help us to turn from sanctified selfishness. Lead us to halt hatred. Inspire us to obliterate otherness. Call us to a time of deep contemplation.
In the world where love is routinely manufactured, politicized, prejudiced, punished, competitive, commodified, critiqued, and canceled, teach us to love deeply, unashamedly, inclusively, faithfully – to recommit ourselves to love God with all our hearts, to love others, our neighbors with all our heart, to love ourselves with all our hearts.
In this post-Pentecost, in the season where we celebrate the birthing of the church, and on this 21st anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, on another day when we can try to get this thing called life right - David’s lament reminds us that God already knows all about us. God sees us. God hears us, because God created us and God loves us.
We too can say, create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!