How Can it Be?
His hands were dirty. They were stained with adultery and sodden with the murder of an innocent man. The consequences of his sin ravaged his household, and now this child born of infidelity was languishing on the brink of death. For seven days and nights the man lay prostrate. Tears were his only food. He did nothing but groan for God to be gracious amidst the sporadic heaving of his sorrow until at last word came. The child was dead.
The man, of course, was King David. The story is that of God’s judgment upon His family following the murder of Uriah and adultery with Bathsheba found in 2 Samuel 12. You’re not actually reading it if it doesn’t give you knots in your stomach. The sin of David and its dire aftermath is gut-wrenching. Yet what happens next might be more astonishing than anything that has come before.
“And they said, ‘He is dead.’ So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” 2 Samuel 12:20
How is this possible? David walks out of a house engulfed in tragedy, across to the hill where he had erected a tent for the Ark on Mt. Zion, and he stands before the Lord and worships. In the worst season of his life, in the wake of heinous compromise, when God’s judgment was resting upon his home, David did not recoil into an abyss of shame or put himself in permanent spiritual timeout. How? The answer is that even though it was a thousand years before the Lord would hang bleeding outside of the walls of that very city, David had discovered a secret about how God feels about weak and broken people.
How can the incense of worship arise from our lives when we know just how stricken with struggle they truly are? From the beginning, sin produces a sense of alienation from our Creator. Adam and Eve tried to hide from the Lord as He walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8). And when we stumble, there is an instinctive, visceral response in us to run away from God rather than to turn toward God, no matter how long we have been saved. Shame causes an emotional tailspin. We might still go to church, we might still sing the songs or be forced to put on a smile and lead the songs, but our hearts are far from Jesus. What can we do to actually move beyond this into freedom?
Understanding the work of the cross rightly is essential. Right thoughts about what Christ accomplished on our behalf through His substitutionary sacrifice on Calvary are indispensable. Those truths are the foundation of our lives and the rock we stand on. This glorious salvation we have received by grace, through faith, allows us to cling to the assurance that we have an Advocate who is faithful to forgive us of all of our transgressions because He has saved us to the uttermost through His once and for all sacrifice (1 Jn. 1:9, 2:1; Heb. 7:24-27). We have been given a free gift of righteousness and it is this which is the basis of our justification – our standing before God – and not how well we performed on any given week (Gal. 2:16; Phil. 3:9). Jesus had pleaded our cause, He has righted our wrongs, and He laid down His life so that we could live forever in Him. This is indescribably precious.
Yet we must go one step further to fully resolve the questions posed above. It isn’t enough to have only intellectual clarity about our position before God. Salvation is not just legal – it is primarily relational. In order for the cycle of shame and alienation that cripples the response of worship in our lives to truly be broken, in order for us to actually run to God instead of from God when we stumble, we need to move beyond asking “what is my standing with Jesus when I struggle with sin?” to “how does Jesus feel about me in my struggle with sin?”. We are made in the image of God. We have deep emotions because God has deep emotions. And by the workings of a hidden law of the soul, our emotions will mirror what we perceive God’s emotions to be like. Our hearts will never flourish in worship if we subtly imagine that God accepts us out of legal obligation to His word but He is really disappointed with us because of the inconsistency of our obedience.
The truth David had come to realize about the Lord which enabled him to respond in worship was the very thing that God Himself had said to Samuel when David was first anointed king:
“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
Jesus does not define you by your weakness. The testimony of the Lamb of God over your life is not the accusations that the devil assails you with, it is not the anthem of condemnation that your own soul sings, and it is not the critical eye of evaluation you feel glaring at you from others. Instead, His emotions toward you are based primarily on the deepest cry of your heart to love Him and glorify Him. He is looking at your heart! This is why He can have genuine and sincere delight in your life even in the midst of your struggle with sin and specific areas that are not pleasing to Him. For those who are truly born again, who demonstrate the fruits of repentance, and are waging war against sin in their lives, Jesus knows and sees that at the core of your being you yearn to love Him with the entirety of your life and walk in total obedience. It is this desire that defines your identity in His sight rather than your struggles and shortcomings.
David knew that God knew that even though he had committed horrible sins with grave consequences for his family and the nation of Israel, he was still a genuine lover of God. As the Bride in the Song of Songs says, “we are dark, yet lovely" (Song 1:5).