THE STORY OF DAVID – Psalm 51:7–12 – Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. 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 within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Almost everything in me resists forgiveness, in both directions.
It’s probably not surprising that I don’t get excited about forgiving. Think about it: Every time in my life that I’ve forgiven someone, it’s been preceded by hurt. Even if that hurt is seemingly small, like an unkind word from a friend, I hate being hurt.
You might think being forgiven feels better. Not always. Forgiveness is beautiful and restoring and—quite frankly— one of the experiences that makes me believe God still works miracles in the world. But being forgiven is vulnerable and uncomfortable. It’s like having a bad tooth taken out: I’m thankful for the result, but I’m never giddy about the process.
King David’s story presses the issue of forgiveness as far as you can imagine. It forces us to ask, “Is there a limit to God’s forgiveness?” The answer is scandalous.
David was the second king of Israel, the one immediately following Saul. It is difficult to overstate the importance of David. He wrote most of the book of Psalms. He was heralded as Israel’s greatest king. His biography is recorded with more detail than any other Old Testament figure. Most significantly, God promised that one of David’s offspring would “establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:13).
And yet, like those in his genealogy before him, David sinned greatly. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to create a worse litany of wrongs than those committed by David: After using his power to force a married woman to have sex with him, he then killed her husband (and probably others) to hide his sin. Rape. Murder. Deceit. That’s a horrific list.
David—and those around him—experienced painful consequences from his sins. David also experienced forgiveness. When confronted about his sin, David owned what he had done (what the Bible calls “confession”) and pledged to God to go a new direction (what the Bible calls “repentance”). He knew he did not deserve God’s forgiveness. But he also knew he desperately needed God’s forgiveness. So he wrote Psalm 51, a poem that stands as one of the most profound meditations on forgiveness ever written.
Forgiving great offenses comes at a great cost. David knew his wrongs must be “purged” and “blotted out” if he was ever to be restored to God’s presence. What David didn’t know was how God would do this.
Reading the Gospels, we see the cost of forgiveness in a way that David never did. To “blot out all of [David’s] iniquities,” Jesus would allow his life to be blotted out (Psalm 51:9). To make David’s broken bones rejoice, Jesus would allow his body to be broken for us. In his life and in his death, Jesus was paying a staggering cost to make a way for the worst sinners to receive grace. Remarkably, that includes David.
And me. And you.
We often don’t think of Christmas as a “scandalous” time. But Jesus was coming to earth to forgive sins. What greater scandal—and what greater gift—can we imagine this Christmas?
What is one way you need to receive forgiveness?
What is one way you need to extend forgiveness?
Whether in receiving or extending forgiveness, consider taking the first step of forgiveness today by reaching out to that friend, family member, coworker, or neighbor.