My Clean Heart, God’s Blind Eyes – Psalm 51
One day in our discussion group after church back when I was yet new to faith, one of the church elders objected to a song, “Create in Me a Clean Heart,” that we had sung during the service.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Psalm 51:10-12, ESV
“We shouldn’t be singing ‘Cast me not away from thy presence, oh Lord. Take not Thy holy spirit from me,’” he said. “Once we accept Jesus, we can be assured that God would never do that.”
“But it’s straight from Psalm 51,” another elder said.
“Yeah,” the first elder said. “I know. But it’s Old Testament thinking. Old Testament praying.”
Uncharacteristically, although I had found the song particularly moving and would have liked to say so, I kept my peace. I wanted to think about those arguments so intriguingly put before me. That God would never abandon me as I felt he had during the decades of the atheism I had fallen into in my teens. That there was right way of praying about sin and a wrong one. That the two Testaments upon which I had based my faith upon returning to belief in the one true God were out of sync with each other and it was up to us poor imperfect believers to figure out how to make them concur.
I have been pondering these questions ever since, especially this business of there being a right and wrong way of praying about my many sins. Although I know that I am forgiven, I also suffer “in my secret heart,” as the Psalm goes (51:6 ESV), whenever I am mean-spirited or arrogant or fail to do what I know well is the right thing to do. Which is often. And I worry, despite my belief otherwise, that our all-seeing God might see all the ugliness hidden in that inward place and change his mind about me and not wash me in his holiness for the umpteenth time but cast me once again from his presence.
That worry is certainly not a right way of praying, contradicting as it does the fundamental confidence that we believers share: that, because of Jesus, we have been and will be forgiven for all the wrongs we have ever done or will do or even contemplate. That we are forgiven daily, hourly, minute by minute. That Jesus, our brother, stands between us and our all-seeing Father and, with his brightness, blinds him. Yes, because of his Son, our Father is blind to my sin.
But I’m not. I see it there, constantly accruing despite my intentions and exertions, like the greasy black gunk that collects in drains.
But David’s prayer of contrition buoys me. No other prayer is so immediately answered. It is answered before I can get the words out, before they form in my mind, before the melody that houses them takes shape in my consciousness. Oh, cover your eyes! Purge me! Renew me!
Whenever I pray it, I relearn God’s constant attendance and blind love. And afterward, for a moment, I feel clean.
Patty Kirk is Writer in Residence and Associate Professor of Creative Writing at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. She and her husband Kris live in eastern Oklahoma and have two daughters, Charlotte and Lulu, who are in college. She is the author of five books, most recently The Easy Burden of Pleasing God and The Gospel of Christmas: Reflections for Advent. PattyKirk-Writer.Blogspot.com