Penitence Psalm

The signs are always there. My dog, who usually greets me with unbridled enthusiasm when I come home, greeted me with a small wag and then waited downstairs. I knew exactly what has happened. I ascended the stairs to the kitchen to find that she had once again “unloaded” the dishwasher and had generously licked all the dirty plates clean. She waited to hear my unhappy response as I clean up dishes, some of them broken on the tile floor. Then about ten minutes later she quietly came up and nuzzled her head under my hand. She knows she can count on my love and mercy for forgiveness. If only Mom would remember to close the dishwasher before leaving, these things wouldn’t happen!

     Psalm 6 is a psalm of penitence and was often sung on Ash Wednesday in the early church. It certainly has a Lenten feel, as David started with confession and humility as he anticipated God’s punishment and anger. We don’t know what sin David committed and it doesn’t matter. David speaks into all of our sin in this psalm, describing exactly how we feel when we come face to face with what we have done. The shaking, the crying, and the devastation of knowing that we have separated ourselves from God by our actions are explicitly laid out in this psalm. Who among us hasn’t experienced a “what have I done??” moment?

Psalm 6 (Common English Bible)

Please, Lord,
    don’t punish me when you are angry;
    don’t discipline me when you are furious.
Have mercy on me, Lord,
    because I’m frail.
Heal me, Lord,
    because my bones are shaking in terror!

My whole body is completely terrified!
        But you, Lord! How long will this last?
Come back to me, Lord! Deliver me!
    Save me for the sake of your faithful love!

No one is going to praise you
    when they are dead.
Who gives you thanks
    from the grave?

I’m worn out from groaning.
    Every night, I drench my bed with tears;
    I soak my couch all the way through.

My vision fails because of my grief;
    it’s weak because of all my distress.

Get away from me, all you evildoers,
    because the Lord has heard me crying!

The Lord has listened to my request.
    The Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies will be ashamed
    and completely terrified;
    they will be defeated
    and ashamed instantly.

     When this happens and we feel the anger and the discipline that we deserve, we need to remember what Hebrews teaches us about God’s discipline. “Bear hardship for the sake of discipline. God is treating you like sons and daughters!” (Hebrews 12:7, Common English Bible). God’s discipline is given to those whom God has adopted, so to be corrected is a mark of being a child of God. So, when your sins and the consequences of your actions keep you up at night, flooding your bed with tears, count on your status as God’s beloved and know that mercy and forgiveness will prevail.

     And let’s not miss the lesson in verse 8, where David says, “Get away from me, all you evildoers”. This is a timely reminder to us to disassociate ourselves from people or places that contribute to our sin. God calls us to walk away from ungodly relationships, even those in our families and workplaces. Anything that might cause us to stumble on our walk needs to be removed from our lives, including social media and the things we watch on television.

     David ends with a word of confidence that the Lord listened to his request and accepted his prayer. So too will God do for you when you come before him in an attitude of humility and repentance.