Running into the Loving Arms of God

Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.

Psalm 51:1-2

This is a part of yesterday’s Lent Project devotion by Tiffany Clark, author, adjunct professor, and spiritual director, specializing in the ongoing spiritual formation of global Christian leaders. It spoke to me of our heavenly Father’s posture towards penitent sinners, and so I share it hoping it will speak to you. I also include the prayer from the devotional.

“David’s confession in Psalm 51 used to strike me as inappropriate. How could someone who had just committed adultery and murder dare to turn around and ask God to restore his joy? Somehow it seemed more acceptable for this abuser to linger longer over his guilt, demonstrating a level of remorse and self-deprecation equal to the magnitude of his offense. But David’s confession, while admittedly contrite, smacked of an audacity I assumed would displease the God I had been taught to fear. How could one who had failed so miserably approach the throne of God with this level of confidence?

Returning to this prayer again, I can see how David’s knowledge of God challenges my former perception. This was the God whose justice he had witnessed on the battlefields of Canaan, whose wrath he had witnessed in the striking down of a young man for daring to touch the ark, and whose holiness he had witnessed in the taking away of the Holy Spirit from his predecessor Saul. David knew full well the consequences of offending God and what was at stake in his confession. But he also knew the God with whom he was speaking. God’s self-description to Moses matched His self-revelation to David: “Yahweh, Yahweh, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7, Psalm 103:7-14). David knew Him to be the sort of father who was already standing with his hands outstretched, longing for His prodigal child to repent into His warm embrace. Instead of a self-condemning “I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” David exposed his sin in the full light of who God is.

What keeps us from running into those same arms when we know we have been wrong? What traps us on the swinging pendulum that oscillates between self-deceiving pride and self-loathing shame? I suspect it has to do with how we imagine the look on God’s face when we come before Him. If He is Judge, won’t we feel judged? If He is holy, won’t we feel dirty? But one look at the tender compassion on our Father’s face transforms our experience of confession. It infuses us with both the courage and the humility to come clean, with God and with ourselves. It undresses our tendency to either avoid the reflecting pool or drown in it, inviting us instead to plunge in with confident faith that our Father’s love will make it for us a healing, purifying bath.”

Holy Lord, sometimes curtains obscure your loving face. I want to return to you—to be still, at home in your embrace. But I am aware of all the “not good” within me. I feel disqualified from your love. Holy Comforter, give me the courage to bring my naked self into your presence. Bathe me, wipe me, and clothe me again. Tuck me under your arm and reassure me of your love. Save me; I am yours.

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