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Psalms through the YearPsalms through the Year
(Augsburg Fortress)

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Sinning Against God

By Marshall D. Johnson
Guest Writer - Today's Scripture reading is taken from Psalm 51:3-6 (NLT) :

"For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against You, and You alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in Your sight. You will be proved right in what You say, and Your judgment against me is just. For I was born a sinner— yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. But You desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there."

The psalmist attempts no evasion of responsibility whatsoever. Although he knows what he has done, he does not inform us: "I know my transgressions ..." This feeling of guilt has become an obsession; he cannot get rid of it: "My sin is every before me" (verse 3).

The confession, "Against you, you alone, have I sinned," does not indicate that he had committed a cultic offense that did not involve other human beings. It is instead similar to David's confession after committing adultery with Bathsheba: "I have sinned against the Lord" (2 Samuel 12:13; the superscription of Psalm 51, which asserts that this psalm is David's confession at that occasion, is remarkably apt).

Sin is a transgression of a command from God, and thus all sin is against God, whether it has injured another human being or not.

"Truth in the inward being" (verse 6) also includes recognition of just penalty. "You are justified in your sentence" (verse 4, quoted in the same sense by Paul in Romans 3:4-5). When we stand before the ultimate Judge, we can offer no excuses.

Theologians have had a field day with statements like verse 5: "Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me."

But the psalmist is not articulating any theory of original sin nor of the supposed evil of the act of procreation. His overwhelming sense of guilt causes him to admit that his entire life has exhibited a tendency to rebel. His thought reminds us of Job's lament: "How then can a mortal be righteous before God? How can one born of a woman be pure?" (Job 25:4; compare Job 14:1, 4; 15:14).

How can such a weight of guilt be removed? The psalmist knows (see the following verses).

In my finitude and weakness, O God, allow me a glimpse of what I can be. Amen.

Excerpted from Psalms Through The Year: Spiritual Exercises for Every Day by Marshall D. Johnson. Copyright © 2007 Augsburg Fortress.  All rights reserved. Used by permission. For more information, go to the Augsburg Fortress.

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