A Broken and Contrite Heart

This is a reflection that comes from the events of this past week, as well as from Psalm 51. This is particularly well known Psalm, and it is a Psalm of confession. It is a Psalm where King David has finally come to grips with his failure and mistakes. But before we jump into the scripture, let me give some background on what lead David to write this passage.

You see, earlier in his reign, before writing this Psalm, David was tempted and took advantage of a married woman named, Bathsheba. Her husband, Uriah, was out for battle, fighting one of David’s wars. He was a leader and, from what we can tell, a good and honest man. During David’s affair, Bathsheba became pregnant. David needed devised a plan. He would have Uriah come home, take a break from this war, and enjoy being married to his wife Bathsheba. He thought; Then, Uriah will think it is his baby. No one will be the wiser. 

It didn’t quite work out that way. So David created a new plan, sending Uriah back to the frontlines of the battle. He knew full well that this would be the death of Uriah, and it was. David, being the upstanding man he was, took the widowed Bathsheba as his wife and accepted this unborn child as his. And for all intents and purposes, David got away with it. No one knew, besides David, Bathsheba, and God. Until, God talked with the prophet Nathan.

God told Nathan to go have a little talk with David about the consequences of wrong doing. 

So, Nathan went and told David a story about man who had no wife or children, but he had a little ewe lamb. And he loved the lamb as if it were his child. There was another man, a rich man, who had much more than the other man. He had land. He had money. He had plenty of livestock, as well as much more. The rich man has a guest coming to visit and the rich man wanted to prepare a meal. Though, he didn’t want to use his own livestock, so he took the other man’s lamb. The other man was devastated at the killing of his lamb. And as the story concluded, David, being so outraged, asked where this rich man was, calling to put him to death. 

Nathan looked at David and shared, “You are the rich man in this story.” David was the man who took something that wasn’t his. David was the bad guy. As he started to open his eyes to his moral failure and mistakes, he began to confess to God. And this is how we got Psalm 51. It is a prayer to God for forgiveness and grace. 

I tell you this background because I think it is helpful for us to see where David is coming from and to understand his broken heart and confession. David could no longer continue on unchanged.

There is this beautiful line, in verses 16-17 that I find highly important for us today; “You [God] do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” 

What David is doing is taking the norm of the culture, and he flips it upside down. You see, when people would mess up in that day, it was common for you to go and do a burnt offering. It was the most passive form of atonement. People would mess up, offer a burnt sacrifice and then, often they would continue on unfazed. While this was the norm, according to David, God doesn’t want more burnt sacrifices, he wants a “broken spirit” and a “broken and contrite heart.” 

This is important and strong language. Because for someone to speak of the spirit and heart was to speak of someone’s whole self. It was a way of speaking about both their external actions and internal nature. So God doesn’t want more burnt offerings, which ultimately mean next to nothing in the grand scheme of things. What God wants is people who are so broken up with their sins and wrongdoing that it changes them. David is saying that we must lament our own brokenness. 

The dictionary defines lament as “To is to show a deep expression of grief or sorrow.” The verb of this is for someone “to mourn”. Like we mourn the loss of another. And I think this is so pertinent for us today. Because the country, after the events of this past week, in a state of mourning.

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, we are reminded of the countless others just like him. Men and women of color who have been mistreated, oppressed, abused, some to the point of death. George Floyd is not an anomaly. This is not an unheard of story. It’s not new and yet we are continuing down this path unfazed. We make passive atonements, but with little change to be seen or heard of. And I think it is finally time that we have our hearts broken. 

What happened to George Floyd, and the many others who share a similar story, is absolutely heartbreaking. We as Christ followers have come to place where we can no longer sit idly by allowing oppression and racism to continue. Our silence has gone on too long. We must speak up. We must advocate. And we must love at all costs, seeking justice for all people. 

I will be honest and say, I don’t know the answer. I don’t know how to fix this. I don’t know all of the steps to recovery for ourselves and our country, and I don’t know many who do. This is not a devotion where I lay out a plan of action with three easy steps to being a better human. But what I do know is that we must start with lament. We must allow for our hearts and spirits to be shattered. Because I think the only way forward to is recognize the wrong done and harm that has been and continues to be caused. Much like David, I think what God desires of us is a broken and contrite heart. A heart that is so fed up that the status can no longer remain quo. A heart that knows that the only way forward is to change.

My prayer for this week comes from Psalm 51:10; “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” 

May we be people of change. May we be people who embrace the greatest commandments; love God and love others. Love everyone. Without addendum or stipulation, no “ifs” or “buts”. Just love. May we be emissaries of hope and justice. And finally, may we be people who listen with an open heart and an open mind. Stand up for our hurting brothers and sisters and let your voice be heard. 

Be safe. Be wise. Be Jesus. 

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