I love old homes. They have character, charm and history, and they have high ceilings. Most old homes have front porches, too. I love front porches. For all the warmth, charm and character old homes have, they often leave a lot to be desired. For one thing, the floors creak when you walk. For another, the wind whistles through the windows, and of course, in the winter the heat gets trapped up in those high ceilings, and that makes the home cold. When we lived in Kentucky, the church there had a fantastic, old parsonage (100 years old). Five bedrooms—the largest parsonage we ever lived in. With four children, it was great! There was one thing about that old parsonage, though, that we never quite got used to—no closets. Well, there were closets. They were just small. The upstairs closets particularly weren’t really closets at all. They were really just the crawl space between the wall and the slanted roof on the house. You had to duck to walk in the “closet.”
That’s the thing about old houses. Most were built in a time when life was less crowded with stuff. People didn’t need big closets. Now, one of the primary selling points of a home is its closet space. We want lots of closets so we can store our stuff. There’s stuff we put in those closets that we forget about. Sometimes we put stuff in the closet because we don’t know what else to do with it. So, we just keep needing bigger and bigger closets.
Every one of us has a closet we’d as soon forget, though. Like all our other closets, it too, has gotten bigger and fuller. It’s the closet where we keep all our skeletons. We all have skeletons in our closets. They are not pretty, and we’re afraid someone will find out, and finding out, will judge or condemn us. We all have those skeletons, and they’re there just waiting to destroy us. Actually, it’s the fear of being found out that is destroying us.
The Psalmist David had one of those closets, too. David writes a sad, sad song with Psalm 51 as a result of a prophet named Nathan showing up to remind him of a few skeletons David was hiding. This song was a reminder to David of a very sad time in his life, but it’s also a song of hope in the grace and forgiveness of God.
Let me offer a little reminder of David’s life to set the context of the song. David was a young shepherd boy tapped from the pastures of his father’s flock to be anointed king over all Israel. David was described in scripture as “a man after God’s own heart.” David had battled and defeated the giant Goliath, and won many other victories over his enemies. There was a time in his life when he was at the pinnacle of his success. He had reunited the divided nation of Israel. He returned the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, and he was making plans for building a glorious Temple for God. Things were going very well for David. So well, in fact, that David no longer felt it necessary to go out to do battle with his army. Samuel tells us in 2nd Samuel 11 it “was the time of year when kings went to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to destroy the Ammonites.” It was during that time that David, arising from an afternoon nap, strolled out onto the palace roof outside his bedroom and beheld a beautiful woman. His passion rose within him, and blinded by his own pride, success and position, David believed he could have anything he wanted—including another man’s wife.
Let me make a long story short—David slept with this beautiful woman named Bathsheba. She became pregnant. David tried to cover the affair up, but failed. David even had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah (one of his best soldiers) killed. Adultery (which this day and age, seems to be the only sexual sin frowned upon), lying, conspiracy, murder—yes, David was filling that closet full of skeletons, and here comes Nathan throwing open the door.
Nathan learned what David had done, and at the Lord’s urging, confronted David. I want you think about the courage it took for Nathan to confront David. David was king, for heaven’s sake! Nathan was risking his life. Accountability always involves risk. The right thing to do is always costly.
Nathan confronted David by telling him a story about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had many sheep and other livestock, but the poor man only had one little sheep that he held in his arms, and became the family pet. The rich man had a visitor from out of town, and rather than taking a sheep from his own flock, went and took the poor man’s sheep. David became enraged and demanded that the person who did this must die after repaying the poor man four times over what he had taken. Nathan looked intently at David and said, “You da’ man!” The title of this sad song tells us Nathan’s confrontation led David to write what has become perhaps the world’s most famous confession. What David discovered was that rather than being destroyed by all those skeletons, he found cleansing and renewal when the closet got cleaned out.
Confession is hardly ever practiced by Protestant Christians anymore, but I believe there is redemptive power in hearing someone say to us, “Your sins are forgiven.” I suspect we don’t practice confession because we believe someone would be shocked to hear us confess to some sin or shortcoming. We probably see it as no one’s business, and perhaps that’s how David saw it, too. Could it also be that we’ve come to see the church as a fellowship of “saints” rather than what it really is—a fellowship of sinners, and we see ourselves as the only one who has not taken what Richard Foster called “the high road to heaven?” As David discovers, confession is redemptive, and redemption is good for the soul.
Guilt, especially unresolved guilt, will destroy us. Listen to David’s plea in verse 3—“my shameful deeds haunt me day and night.” To overcome sin in our lives, we have to move from guilt to grace. Grace heals and transforms us. Confession is the bridge that gets us from guilt to grace. There are basically four types of guilt. First, civil guilt is that guilt that comes because we have driven over the speed limit, or run a red light. It is objective. We’re guilty whether we ever get caught or not. Secondly, theological guilt comes from breaking one of God’s commandments, and it, too is objective. We may or may not feel remorse, but if we have broken one of the commandments, we’re guilty. The Apostle Paul speaks of our theological guilt in Romans 3:23—“for we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard.”
Thirdly, psychological guilt is the guilt we feel, and it is the guilt that can be most damaging to our emotions. It’s the guilt from which we find the most difficulty healing, and it may or may not be linked to either civil or theological guilt. It may not even be linked to anything real. Psychological guilt is perceived guilt. Some people carry it from childhood, never realizing they carry a burden on their shoulders that doesn’t belong to them. Adults who grew up in broken homes often carry this type of guilt. Victims of spousal abuse carry this guilt. People who have lost loved ones go through this type of guilt. Psychological guilt is so destructive precisely because it is often not attached to anything tangible. That makes it almost impossible to deal with, and often times requires professional therapy.
Finally, there is true guilt. True guilt gave rise to David’s song. True guilt can lead to constructive sorrow. Constructive sorrow is healthy because it prompts us that we’ve done something wrong. It moves us to confession so we can begin to resolve the effects the brokenness causes. True guilt is like warning lights on our car. We had an old Plymouth mini-van when we were in seminary, and the “check engine” light used to come on all the time. The owner’s manual said take it to the nearest dealer and have it checked. It may signal a minor problem, or it may indicate a major breakdown. Either way, the light indicates something is wrong. True guilt acts the same way, and constructive sorrow moves us to repentance and confession, and ultimately to grace. Grace is what we’re all searching for. So you see, confession is the bridge that can carry us from guilt to grace, and it is in God’s grace that we find forgiveness. The Apostle John tells us, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrong” (1 John 1:9). When we experience God’s forgiveness, we find the joy missing in our lives restored. That was David’s plea in this song. Look again at verse 12—“Restore to me again the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.” That plea was answered when Nathan, upon hearing David’s confession, uttered the words, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you.” What awesome words to hear!
My friend, God in Jesus Christ has taken away all our sin. David sang, “Purify me from my sin, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” That’s exactly what Christ has done through the power of his cross. He’s washed our sins away. We don’t have to be slaves to sin, or to guilt anymore. Go over to that closet, throw open that door and start throwing out those skeletons, and you might discover confession is not such a sad song after all.
Until next time, keep looking up…