“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” Psalms 51:1-2 ESV
I have written about how we can’t throw out the Old Testament and accept the New Testament in its place, as modern sensibilities might suggest. (See, for instance, Jesus and the “Old Testament God”) The Old Testament is the seed for the New Testament. Everything revealed in the New Testament was first revealed in the Old Testament. The Old Testament finds its fulfillment in the New Testament.
Moderns tend to want to view “the Old Testament God” as something different from the God revealed in the New Testament by Jesus, but Jesus affirmed the Old Testament. Jesus says that the Old Testament anticipated and pointed toward him. (“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Luke 24:27)
The Bible verse of the day quoted above was prayed by David in Psalm 51. David expressed the desire of all of us when he asked God to have mercy on him, to “blot out” his transgressions, to wash away his iniquity and to cleanse him from his sins. We all have a conscience and a desire and need for the cleansing of our consciences.
We do have the capacity to ignore our consciences and to deny that desire for forgiveness. If we do that too often and too long, our consciences become callous and dull; the desire for forgiveness diminishes; and we no longer have the sensitivity God built into us that drive us toward Him. Psychology tells us that we all have that conscience, but we do have choice in how we respond to it.
C S Lewis talks about how our desires and our needs have a correlative reality in something that fulfills those desires and needs. He observes that we hunger, and there is food to meet that hunger; we thirst, and there is water to quench that thirst; we have sexual desires, and there is conjugal love we have with another person that fulfills that desire… at least temporarily.
That those desires are only temporally met and satisfied, says Lewis, suggests that there is something else, something more. We also have a deeper and more fundamental longing within us to know God and to be known by God, to be forgiven by God and for eternal life and relationship. CS Lewis says that the reality we know, the satisfaction of temporary longings and desires, is some evidence of a more fundamental and satisfying reality that will fulfill our enduring and deepest longings.
The ancient writer of Ecclesiastes was, perhaps, thinking along these same lines when he said that God put eternity into our hearts, yet not so much that we know very much about it. (“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV)
I think of these things that CS Lewis says as I read the verse of the day today. David’s cry to God for mercy, to be washed and cleansed from his sins is as fundamental a longing as any desire that human beings have.
If I were a skeptic, I might think that it would be easy to create such a reality in our imagination – a God who forgives sins and is nice to us. Did we create God in our image as a way to placate ourselves? If it were so easy, why did it take so many centuries for the reality of that fulfillment and satisfaction to be conceived?
The reality is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. A real person who existed in history, who walked the Earth in a particular time and place, performed miracles, said extraordinary things and died a most public and humiliating death. Yet, he turned history on its head – so much that our modern calendar, another two thousand years later, is dated from his life.
This person, Jesus, who said that the Old Testament Scriptures, including what David wrote, point toward him, was observed risen from the dead by over 500 people, who became his undying followers, many of them following him even to their own death. Paul, the once Jewish zealot who sought to nip the gathering momentum of the followers of Jesus in the bud, changed his mind on the strength of his own encounter with the risen Jesus, just one of those more than 500 eye witnesses:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (From the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which has gained provenance from even the most skeptical of historians (1 Cor. 15:3-8))
This is not some product of the imagination trumped up to salve a restless soul from self-incrimination. It is the divine fulfillment of those desires and longings expressed by David many centuries before. It is God addressing our deepest longings with the reality to match them and satisfy them.
David, the man who wrote Psalm 51, lived around the turn of the first millennia BC (1000 BC). Jesus was born one thousand years later. Why did it take so long if it is all the product of the imagination of men? Why wasn’t it easier than that?
Of course, a skeptic might say, “What took God so long?”
But God, the maker of heaven and earth, all that is seen and unseen, isn’t like us. He is separate and distinct from the world He created and filled with time, space and matter. God is timeless and immaterial. God’s measure of time is much different than ours. A day to God is like a thousand years, and thousand years is like a day. (See Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8)
God’s perspective is greater than ours, like the difference between a created being on relatively tiny planet, orbiting a relatively small star in a relatively ordinary solar system and a Creator of an utterly immense and perpetually expanding universe. Such a God can also see the beginning from the end, though we can’t fathom it (as the writer of Ecclesiastes suggests).
In God’s timing and for God’s purposes, the answer to our longings, that He placed in our hearts, is, was and always will be present. He just introduced that answer into the world as we experience it at a particular time and place. But, it was just the right time and place:
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Galatians 4:4-5
The reality corresponding to our deepest longings and desires was, is and always will be none other than Himself!
God emptied Himself of His privilege and station to inhabit a finite body and live among us (Philippians 2:5-8), fulfilling all that the prophets and writers (who were inspired by God) “saw” and foretold. He provided the ultimate fulfillment of our desires that David expressed for mercy, forgiveness of sins and the cleansing of our consciences, through Jesus, who sacrificed Himself for us, to usher us into a relationship with Himself that we long for – that He created us for.
“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” Galatians 4:6-7
God, Himself, satisfies our deepest longings. God created us for Himself, and He created us to be fulfilled by Him. Not the least of these desires is for the cleansing of the conscience. Our consciences tell us that we don’t add up as we should. sin means, literally, missing the mark. God provides what we are missing, God provides the math that adds up. In God, we are fulfilled.