What do you do with a guilty conscience? A few days after Tax Day, I guy wrote into the IRS and said, “I haven’t been able to sleep since I filed my taxes. I was not honest with what I owed, enclosed is a check for $500. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send in the rest.”
Guilt is a powerful emotion that many people try live with. I read that the director a mental institution in London once told Billy Graham that half the people in his mental hospital could be released if they could find forgiveness.
Forgiveness is available to each of us through Jesus Christ. We don’t have to carry around the heavy burden of guilt. This psalm explains the nature of sin and the character of God’s forgiveness.
This is one of the few psalms where we are given the reason why it was written. The inscription reads, “A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”
The background of the psalm includes David and Bathsheba. David had broken at least four of the 10 Commandments in this incident. The whole story is found in 2 Samuel 11. Here’s the abbreviated version: One spring instead of leading the army David stays home. Walking on the roof he sees a woman bathing (Bathsheba), (he covets), has her brought to him, has sex with her (adultery) and sends her home. Later she sends word that she is pregnant, her husband, a soldier in David’s army, was away fighting for his king. When David learned that she was expecting a child, he panicked and tried to cover up. He ordered the husband home from battle and sent him down to his home, hoping that he would sleep with his wife and the child would then be accepted as his own (lying.) But Uriah was more honorable than David, a committed soldier and though he came home at the king’s orders, he would not go down to his own house but slept with the soldiers at the palace and returned to the battle the next day. David then arranges for Uriah to be killed in battle (murder) so he could take Bathsheba for his own wife. About a year after these initial events, God sent Nathan the prophet who confronts David about his sins, an event which is recorded in 2 Samuel 12:1-13. The results of that confrontation and David’s desire for forgiveness are expressed in Psalm 51.
Here we learn some lessons how we can overcome guilt in our lives. Psalm 51 breaks down into three simple prayers:
Verses 1-6 Prayer of Confession
Verses 7-12 Prayer for Restoration
Verses 13-17 Prayer of Witness
- Confession (1-6): It means to agree with God.
Like the sting of a scorpion, David feels the painful sting and guilt from what he has done to himself, others, and to God. His heart is crushed and broken by the weight and guilt of his sins. Let’s not be fooled by the accolades of those who are party animals and like to live a wild crazy lifestyle. Sinful living is painful and we cannot escape the consequences.
The burden which had weighed so heavily on David’s life had taken its toll mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually was about to be lifted. The anticipation of it being removed brought relief to a weary man. Having been exposed as an adulterer and a murderer David casts himself on the merciful compassion of God. Note how in these verses David not only faces up to the revelation of his sin and guilt but also how he takes personal responsibility for his sin and guilt. Note how he speaks of ‘my sin’ and ‘I have sinned.’ David does not try to evade his guilt but faces it and admits it openly. David does not try to make excuses for his sin, nor does he try to pass the blame on to someone or something else. So there is the first lesson in overcoming guilt – we must admit or confess our sin and guilt. Then we find forgiveness.
1 John 1:9 reminds us of this very truth: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
- Restoration (7-12):
When David has confessed his sin and sought God’s forgiveness for his guilt he then calls upon God to restore him. I find that interesting. David was not content just to be forgiven. He wanted more than the guilt to be removed from his soul – he wanted a right relationship with God restored. David asks God to cleanse him with hyssop – this was the action of the OT priest to declare the penitent ceremonially clean and acceptable for participation in worship. David asks God to declare him acceptable in his presence. He asks God to restore to him the joy of salvation which he once knew but was lost because of sin. Do we hear what we lose as a result of guilt? When guilt burdens our soul then it steals the joy that we once knew in salvation. However, the result of forgiveness by God is joy restored. Here is the beginning of David experiencing not only forgiveness but freedom from guilt. When God forgives he also restores! He not only blotted out David’s guilt, he washed him thoroughly and declared him acceptable in his presence.
This is exactly what we experience in Christ: But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, Titus 3:4-6
Do you ever feel stagnant in your faith, as though you are just going through the motions? Has sin ever driven a wedge between you and God, making him seem distant? David felt this way, in his prayer he cried, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” God wants us to be close to him and to experience his full and complete life. But sin that remains unconfessed makes such intimacy impossible. Confess our sin to God. We may still have to face some earthly consequences, as David did, but God will give back the joy of your relationship with him.
- Witness 13-17
When God forgives our sin and restores our fellowship with him, we want to reach out to others who need this forgiveness and reconciliation. The more I have felt God’s forgiveness, the more I desire to tell others about it.
Yes, David really messed up. We mess up too. That doesn’t change God’s love for us.
Notice 2 Samuel 12:24 : The LORD loved David so much that He forgave David, He forgot about the sin, and He blessed him with another son, Solomon.
God loves you that much too. He wants us to be forgiven and cleansed of the sin in our life. God sent Jesus to die on a cross so that we could be free from guilt and shame. Jesus restores joy to our lives and gives us peace and purpose. May you experience these truths as I have.
Life Application Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 898.
Rod Mattoon, Mattoon’s Treasures – Treasures from Treasured Psalms, Volume 2, (Springfield, IL: Lincoln Land Baptist Church, n.d.), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 150-199.