You can keep your goat
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. | Psalm 51:17 (NLT)
In this poignant Psalm, David pours out his heart in broken repentance before God. His ‘charge sheet’ is neither short nor trivial. He has carried the weight of his sin for too long. Graciously, God brought that which David had sought to bury into the light through the challenging words of a friend (2 Samuel 12:1-13). David knew he needed to address the issue of his sin before God.
The means of the day would be for David to offer a sin offering. As a king, the expected sacrifice would be that of a young goat. King David would present his sacrifice at the right calendar moment, a ritual would be undertaken and atonement would be made and extended to the King.
But under the conviction of the Spirit, David’s heartfelt reflection was that a sacrifice of this nature was not the sum of what was required.
David was onto something – the tendency of the human nature to cling to ritual without full engagement of the heart.
David’s awareness was raised to the fact that his sin caused infinite offence to a holy God, and that only a heart broken by the realisation of its sinfulness and convicted unto repentance would be acceptable to God. The trap – as many others in the nation fell into – was of ‘going through the motions’ without any real heart change.
We can read the grief-filled words of Psalm 51 and commend David’s honesty before God without recognising that there is a challenge here to us. Are there occasions when we want to deploy a formulaic approach to putting things right with God? Are there times when we offer our ‘sacrifice’ without allowing the conviction of sin to break our hearts and drive us to our knees in repentance? I suspect so.
Our tears can be genuine yet stop short of repentance. We can be upset about the hurt and harm we’ve caused. We can lament the impact of our actions upon others. We can cognitively conclude that we’ve offended God. We may recognise that things are ‘not quite right’ between him and us. Each of these things is a good thing to possess, but they’re not repentance. They’re not necessarily true brokenness. They’re a step removed; they’re safer. They want the outcome of forgiveness and restoration – without the painful step of utter brokenness before God.
God no more wants our tears of non-repentance or our reasoned, thought-through unbrokenness any more than he wanted David’s goat if it meant his heart remained distant.
Let’s pause and consider briefly why we try and deal with things at arm’s length before God. Two things spring readily to mind.
The first is that we have a wonky view of God. An invitation to confess and repent of our sin can feel like a summons to the Headteacher’s office. We mistakenly fear that our confession makes God aware of something we’d managed to keep from him, and if he finds out, then we’re in for it. You know it already, but this mindset is nonsense. God knows the extent of our sin better than we know it ourselves. His requirement of our brokenness and repentance is not so he can punish us, it’s so he can show kindness to us. His promise to those who come close in repentance is of grace, mercy, compassion and kindness. This is the desire of a Father who loves to heal, forgive and restore his children.
So pause and ask yourself – what does your reluctance to come in brokenness and repentance before God reveal about your view of him?
The second factor in our desire to deal with things at a safe distance from God may be our wonky view of ourselves. To offer a young goat here, an emotionally-prompted tear there or a trite prayer elsewhere means we don’t have to do the heart work of recognising that we really are the kind of person who is capable of [insert sin here], and we really are not as good as we’d like to convince ourselves or others. Brokenness is messy. It’s the rubble after the earthquake. It’s not proud or self-reliant.
As you ask yourself what your actions reveal about your view of God, consider too what they show about your view of yourself.
God is not interested in our trite, superficial dealing with our sin. He’s not interested in formulaic interactions, no matter how good they look to others. He’s after our hearts with all of their broken, twisted desires and intentions. He’s after a people who genuinely grieve their sin and its offense toward him. He wants those who are acutely aware of their capacity for wrong who will run to him for mercy.
So, put your fear aside and hear the invitation of the Father to come to him, just as you are. With your sin, your shame and your baggage. Come in repentance and broken-heartedness. Come, that you may find forgiveness, relief and restoration.