Psalm 51 is one of those psalms that I come back to often. It’s not a very pretty psalm; nothing like Psalm 23. It is written by the great king of Israel – David – the man after God’s own heart. However, I don’t think David was feeling much like a great king at all when he wrote this psalm. It is a psalm of confession. David has just been confronted by the prophet Nathan, who was calling him out for ordering the murder of Bathsheeba’s husband so he could marry her – the woman whom he had watched bathing from the top of his palace in Jerusalem. Coming to grips with his sin, he cries out to God:
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
You may be aware that a new season of the Christian calendar began this past Wednesday – Lent. It gets a bad rap these days; some people abuse it with pettiness and others just ignore it altogether. I happen to think its really important. I also agree with my good friend Josh Walters – Lent is all about sin and coming to terms with our sin just like David does in Psalm 51.
I’ve been trying to follow the Revised Common Lectionary in my devotional reading and the Psalm for this week was, of course, Psalm 51. As I read Psalm 51 earlier this week, and especially as I reflected on it this morning, one part of it spoke to me more than it ever has before. In verses 5 & 6, King David declares:
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
What is David saying here? First, I noticed the symmetry of the two “Behold” statements and something jumped out at me. Verse 5 seems to be David’s admission that he is just sinful to the core. There is so much sin and brokenness in him that he cannot imagine the depths of it. This doctrine is known as original sin and is picked up by the apostle Paul big time in his letter to the Romans. So, David is just blown away by the pervasiveness of his sin disease. Then, he throws a counter punch. Notice the language in verse 6: inward being and secret heart. It’s like he saying, “Damn, I’m sinful to the core!” and then “Damn, God wants to redeem me to the core!” David acknowledges both the depth of his sin and the depth of God’s love and mercy and His redemptive power in our lives. We must hold these truths together as we face our sin.
Last semester I took a course called Spiritual Formation that is all about God’s transformative work in our hearts to make us more like Him. In one of the books we read, the author said that we all are driven by a core sin tendency – that all the “sins” we commit during the day are really just symptoms of this underlying sinful drive. If we want to be like Christ, we must come to terms with this inner sin tendency. One of the tools he suggests for helping us in this task is called the Enneagram. It’s basically a personality test that identifies our core identity, which points us to our core sin. Now, its not magical or anything. It’s just a tool. I think it can be helpful to propel and give guidance to our reflection. It is not a substitute for the prayerful reflection that must occur in order to come to grips with the reality of sin in our lives.
I took the free, sampler version of the Enneagram test last semester and found out that I was a type 3 – the Achiever. To cut to the chase, that pretty much means that my core sin tendency is deception – both self-deception and presenting a false self to others – in order to always appear successful. The biblical character that fits this type is Jacob.
The reality of this sin and how it drives me hit me hard this morning. I was right there with David in Psalm 51: “Damn, I’m sinful to the core!” But then I came to verse 6: “O God, you delight in truth in my inward being! You teach me wisdom in my secret heart!” Yes, I struggle with this sin of deception at the core of who I am, but I know that is not all there is. God wants to replace that deception with truth. He wants the truth about who I really am in Him to sink into the deepest parts of my identity. This truth is there already. God has made me, and you, as good. He already loves us. The struggle is in fighting through all the junk, all the constructions and adaptations we’ve made in our lives, to get to that truth and to then live our lives out of that truth.
So, be encouraged sinners! Yes, you are sinful to the core, but God is faithful and He redeems us to the core!