By Jackina Stark
Mercy, there are a lot of reasons to cry.
I went in not so long ago and talked to Ozark Christian College Academic Dean Mark Scott about cutting back my teaching load. I wanted more time to travel, to write, to see the grandchildren and my aging parents. Necessarily, our talk moved to when I would retire altogether, and of course, at that point I started crying.
I’m sure he wished I’d just sent a letter. Well, for goodness’ sake, he must have thought, what do you want? I want more time to travel, to write, to see the grandchildren. But I have loved teaching. I have loved my students. I have loved this faculty and staff. So pardon me if I cry.
The tenderness of my parents, at 82 and 90, touches me. They are people of faith, so Dad, who still bowls a 600 series some weeks, says he doesn’t mind leaving here except he hates to leave Mom alone. Though they are managing very well overall, a blessing for which I am surely grateful, there are a good many frustrations associated with their advanced years. And sometimes they make me cry.
My grandson Scott, adopted when he was 9, lost both legs below the knees when an improvised explosive device blew up under the vehicle he was driving while he served in Iraq. It will be two years this December, and still sometimes we cry.
I see people, whole families, squatting in the alleys of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with nothing to eat, and I cry. In another area of Cambodia, I visit Rapha House, a home for young girls who have been emotionally and sexually ravaged, and I cry.
This is a fallen and impermanent world, and tears will come—literal tears for the lucky ones wired that way—a sobbing of the soul for others. Perhaps you have wept recently. Weeping cannot be avoided when we love deeply.
I wonder, though, how many of us have wept lately because of our sins.
There are seven psalms devoted to repentance, four of them written by David—Psalms 6, 32, 38, and 51. He seems to have shed his most bitter tears because of his sins against the God he adored. You can hear his agony in these “weeping” psalms.
Some cynics might say David couldn’t have adored God all that much and sinned so blatantly. And certainly he sinned horrifically. If for some reason we were forced to make a literal list of sins from most heinous to least, I do not doubt that murder and adultery would come in at Nos. 1 and 2.
Murder is devastating and irrevocable, an arrogance that takes away life that God himself has given, but brutal also are Murder’s brothers—Hate and Indifference. Adultery and other sexual sins are self-serving and destructive, but so is their sister Lust.
No man is without sin that grieves and angers our holy and loving Creator. I recall reading medieval morality plays with a main character named Everyman, who stood for all Christians in the midst of their moral struggles. In his sin, David is Everyman.
But David is not Everyman in his devotion to God. Such devotion is rare. It is no wonder he is called a man after God’s own heart. In the Valley of Elah, David alone stomped out with a slingshot and indignation to fight the giant Goliath, who dared to defy “the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17). It is David who refused to take the life of the King’s anointed, even though God had anointed David king to replace Saul, and even though Saul had diligently sought to kill David (1 Samuel 24). It is David who “inquired of the Lord” before going into battle and “did as the Lord commanded him” (2 Samuel 5). It is David who brought the ark of God back home and danced before the Lord with all his might and wished so much to build a temple to house the ark and to honor God (2 Samuel 6). It is David who took Mephibosheth, crippled grandson of Saul, and gave him everything that belonged to Saul and his family and invited him to eat at his table (2 Samuel 9). It is David who wrote love songs to the Lord, extolling God’s virtues, sharing his fears and joys with his Beloved, and rejoicing that God was his strength and shield and refuge.
Naturally, God was devoted to David, too, loving him and keeping him. The shepherd boy, youngest son of Jesse, was not made king without God’s call. David did not have victory over Goliath without God’s help. He did not slay his “tens of thousands” without God going into battle before him. He did not survive Saul’s manhunt without God’s protection and guidance. God and David had a relationship, mutual delight, that God seems to have always wanted with his creation.
After a lifetime I think I’ve begun to understand why David cried out in Psalm 51, “Against you, and you only, have I sinned.” I’ve often thought through the years—Well, excuse me, David, I do believe you sinned against Uriah. And it strikes me that you sinned against Bathsheba as well.
But Uriah and Bathsheba weren’t his Creator and Sustainer, worthy of praise and obedience. Uriah and Bathsheba had not protected him and honored him and loved him. Uriah and Bathsheba were not the subjects of countless pleas and as many outbursts of praise in David’s poetry. David sinned against God. And because David, for a time—for a horrible time—forgot the One he loved the most, Uriah and Bathsheba suffered in the maelstrom.
And so did David, of course.
In Psalm 40:12, David writes, “My sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me.”
There are many ways to respond to sin and the suffering that comes with it. It is important that when David became fully and painfully aware that it was against his God that he had sinned, he was not Everyman in his response. Only one who loves deeply wrote these weeping psalms. David did not avoid God because of fear or indifference or pride. He cared enough to writhe in physical and emotional agony, and in his sin and shame, he loved and trusted God enough to call out to him.
Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in anguish (Psalm 6:2, 3).
All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes (Psalm 38:9, 10).
David was vulnerable before God, sharing intimately and honestly, because he did not doubt God would hear him in his “unfailing love.” In his misery, and despite his unfaithfulness to the One whose name is Faithful and True, David had hope because he understood something Paul speaks of centuries later, that God’s love is wide and long and high and deep (Ephesians 3).
This belief of his is all over these psalms. David knew that though he didn’t deserve it, God would surely restore him. That’s how he was able to summon enough courage to ask for God’s help:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
According to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin (Psalm 51:1, 2).
David didn’t ask for restoration without envisioning a proper response to restoration, just as he responded properly to his sin. He would spare the rocks the trouble and cry out his praise, and he would recommit himself to God’s service.
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit (Psalm 32:1, 2).
I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you. . . . My tongue will sing of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:13-17).
I was assigned the task of speaking on the psalms of repentance. Studying these psalms and writing about what I’ve discovered has taken me to a place of mourning, but strangely I am grateful for that.
I know God remembers we are “dust.” We mortals will sin. But will our hearts break because of it? Will we weep because we have sinned against God? Will we trust in his “unfailing love”? Will we be restored to a fellowship that brings sweet joy and satisfying usefulness? Will we, like David, experience this precious truth: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18)?
These are the lessons of the weeping psalms.
I don’t know just who might have been gathered in David’s chambers when it came time for the king, “old and well-advanced in years,” to turn over the kingdom to his and Bathsheba’s son Solomon. Whoever it was must have watched the king take his final breath, amazed or perhaps horrified. Some must have gasped; some must have sighed; some must have cried.
There are those who think it’s quite unfortunate when a wealthy and powerful person has to give up the baubles of this life, but I doubt that David cared. I don’t know exactly what happens when our spirits leave these mortal bodies, but I like to think David closed his eyes to open them in Heaven. I like to think his eyes filled with tears when he finally saw face to face the One he loved so dearly.
And I like to think the One who loved him so dearly dried every tear from his eyes, and said, “The time for weeping is over.”
Jackina Stark teaches at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri.