Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10
I have a confession. Not anything nefarious, more along the lines of embarrassingly dumb. Last Monday I wanted to back my prized Ford Taurus about half-way into my garage, and, for reasons too complicated to explain, I hopped out, leaving the door open, and left the car in reverse. I’ll let that sink in for a moment . . . all right, let’s proceed. As I realized the car was still rolling, with its front left “wing” heading slowly toward destruction, I jumped in and jammed on the brake.
Too late. That’s an awful, slow, crunching sound. The outer brick wall of my house had bent the door back at a precise 90 degree angle. A car door should stop about 60 degrees. I sat there for a moment in stunned stupidity. My dear wife, who had witnessed the entire incident, stood in very gracious silence. I pulled forward, and found that while I was still able to close the door, it made a loud popping, grinding sound that said, “this will cost you.”
After a few moments of recovery, I sheepishly called my good friend in the car business to ask about arranging for repairs. I explained the situation and repeatedly bemoaned my foolishness. He assured me that they could take care of it, and then he said, “you’re not the first person to do this.” He had seen situations like this before, and he had fixed every one. I felt better. That line stayed with me: You’re not the first person to do this, spoken by someone who knew how to fix the problem.
Now let’s move from something mildly inane to deeply evil. David’s sin is usually remembered as his affair with Bathsheba. The worse sin was trying to deceive her husband into believing he was the father. The sin was unspeakably worse when he arranged for Uriah to be left alone in battle. David took advantage of Uriah’s faithfulness and courage to murder him. This sin defies comprehension. Such traitors reside in Dante’s ninth and lowest circle of hell.
Nathan the prophet confronted David who quickly confessed and repented. That’s all very good, but how do you approach God after such evil?
David wrote Psalm 51 after his encounter with Nathan. He had realized painfully the full impact of what he had done. He described his sin in painful detail. He realized how bad he was. The line quoted for this week’s GraceWaves highlights his plea, “create in me a new heart.”
The word create (bara in Hebrew) is interesting. The writer of Genesis used it to describe God’s activity in the first chapter. “In the beginning, God created.” Theologians say the word describes creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing, but that’s not quite accurate. The earth was a formless void when God spoke creation into existence. I like that image better. He took a mess and made beauty.
David confessed to God and held nothing back. He asked Him to create something out of the terrible mess he had made of his life. God did not have much to work with in David, but He doesn’t need anything. That’s the nature of grace. God creates out of little or even nothing. He cleansed, purified, forgave, and accepted David. How? David was not the first person to do something like that, and God knows how to fix the problem. He is in the business of forgiving and transforming messy people.
I regularly speak with people whose past haunts them. After 25 years of looking out over congregations I have learned to never underestimate the terrible situations people get themselves into. Some are bearing a crushing guilt and seek to hide from God, certain that if they stood in His presence, openly and honestly, a holy fire would consume them. In Christ, and through His cross, that’s not true.
What keeps you from God? What do you fear about your past? You’re not the first person to do this. God knows the very worst about you, but He can create something out of nothing and has been doing this since creation. Let Him start to work on you. Give Him your mess. Be honest. Be open. Be new.
Dr. Terry Ellis