Daniel Longyne – Psalm 51: A Defective Model of Confession

This is an example of David’s confession model still in use 400 years later, see the end of the poem that adds prayers for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. It may have been quite acceptable and humanly normative in an ancient cultural context, but read from the perspective on my times, it presents some serious problems and so, I have to conclude that its inclusion in sacred scripture is another example of “inspired imperfection” since it is difficult to presume that god would have mandated this kind of treatment of sin.

I will first admit that David exhibited real and deep regret for his infractions which, on the other hand, became public only after he was confronted by Nathan the prophet He, further, admits his need of and humbly requests god’s forgiveness in reliance upon divine mercy.

The first major problem surfaces when he defines the nature of the offense as solely against God. He does not admit the offenses against: Bathsheba whom he raped repeatedly, got her pregnant and then sent her home; against her husband whom he tries to deceive with apparent favors and concern for personal comfort when, in fact, orchestrating a plausible cover up for the wife’s pregnancy; against Uriah, again, when the deception does not work, he sets him up for assassination which did succeed; against his military commanders whom he appoints as orchestrators of the assassination which they felt obligated to carry out thus becoming accessory to murder; against Bathsheba, again, by quickly transitioning her from widowhood to another of his royal wives and who’s opinion and reaction, not to mention that of the other wives themselves, is not even worth considering as part of the confession; and, ultimately, not least, agains the people who, instead of seeing their king as god’s anointed representative, witness a very different type of authority figure.

To complicate things, the second problem surfaces when David makes use of the oldest excuse in the book likely invoked as a form of self pity, after all, “I am a poor, helpless sinner not alone to be blamed”, but blaming his mother and the non-immaculate conception she provided, as grounds for propensity to transgression. I believe this imperfect model of confession that appears so sanctified when giving no attention to details, continues to be practiced rather widely among christians to this day. One very damaging side effect of the “offense against God alone” formula is the little interest shown to the human victims who end up having to seek their own peace with their god since any recourse they should attempt to secure might bring “dishonor to the faith” and to the “christian testimony” to the unbelievers… and that’s something to think about.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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