Friday, March 7, 2014


Confessing and Atoning                 




The Psalmist - whether the adulterer David or another much earlier biblical writer - makes two things very clear: confession of sin and some kind of atonement are necessary. We are not told in these verses the specific sin committed. However, when we meditate on the Psalm the demand is on us to be totally honest about whatever we perpetrate in word or in deed. This means we need to move from a general prayer of confession to a very personal, precise, and full admission of our guilt. To do so entails a complete end to any self-deception that leaves us "strangers to the truth."


Atonement, a complicated if not controversial theological and psychological concept, is also required. The true blessing is that we are forgiven by a merciful God when we confess. Yet, when it comes to our human relationships, we sinners need to go further, and the Spirit can lead us to do so. Our sinful behavior must stop, and our behavior be significantly improved. The Psalmist promises to become a teacher of God's ways, and a singer of God's liberating mercy. The writer vows to turn from acts of self-absorption toward praising his Deliverer and sharing messages of God's salvation to others. In so doing, a sin can be redeemed into a blessing for others.


John Greenleaf Whittier, a Quaker poet of the late 1800s, wrote the poem that became a popular hymn set to the tunes of Repton and Rest. It is included in the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God (#169). The editors rightfully suggest making the opening line more inclusive so the first stanza, echoing the words and wisdom of the Psalmist, goes like this:


Dear Lord, Creator good and kind, forgive our foolish ways; reclothe us in our rightful mind, in purer lives, thy service find, in deeper reverence, praise.



Rev. Dr. Dean McDonald

SFTS Staff, Alumni and Church Relations and SFTS Family