1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
It cannot be coincidence that this is Psalm 51, the Psalm exactly after Psalm 50 describing God’s wrath against his failing people. These are the words of a desperate man who knows the weight of his sin and is pleading with God to cleanse him. In this prayer we hear echoes of our own sinfulness. In Psalm 50, God declares that he will strike down those who sin against him and the last verse says that those who are blameless will receive salvation. This next Psalm is a prayer of a man who knows he is not blameless and desires that God will come and wash him in order that he may be whiter than snow. God is justified when he judges. Maybe this is a carry over thought from yesterday’s Psalm, but I think it continues here with this cry for a clean heart; this sounds strange but: I like the idea of this wrathful judge God that we more often than not ignore. If God were not the judge, if God were not wrathful and angry when His people sinned against Him, would His mercy, lovingkindness, and compassion be nearly as meaningful or as big? Would the grace He freely gives us be nearly as good and freeing if it weren’t for the fact that He does so as a just judge? That is a beautiful thing. This wrathful, vengeful, angry God who desires to punish his people who continually mess up and sin DIRECTLY to His face and to bring justice to those who have wronged Him is the SAME loving God who suffered on the cross in Jesus Christ to bring life for the world. The same wrathful God we see in Psalm 50 is the God to whom the writer of Psalm 51 calls out to wash away his iniquities because he knows that it is only this judge God who can truly give us forgiveness and therefore bring salvation. Without the judging, wrathful God we would not be able to know the love and salvation of Christ in full.
People always seem to see the “different” God of the Old Testament and the New Testament. This is crazy. Our God never changes. He is the judge so that we may be saved because of His love for us. He is rightly wrathful in order that we may experience His mercy and forgiveness in full. So I have come to appreciate the wrath of God, the judging that God must do. This does not mean that I do not fear the wrath of God. I know that I will be judged for those iniquities that I commit against God. But I also know that because of this, justice will come and His salvation and mercy will endure.
Our God is a good God, a God of love, even through the wrath, anger, and judging.