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The Mental Processes of Repentance 忏悔的心路历程

February 18, 2015, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (Psalm 6:1-10) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Psalms
Preached at a Ash Wednesday service

Tags: Penitential

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诗 篇 第 6 章:1 - 10 节
Sermon on Psalms 6 : 1 - 10

Title: The Mental Processes of Repentance 忏悔的心路历程

Peace to you brothers and sisters. To turn up for this late night Ash Wed service, you must have intentionally set aside this time for God’s purposes. May the Lord bless you for your devotion. And may your act of sacrifice to God be a rewarding one for your relationship with God.

Tonight, we shall start off on another journey of spiritual awakening. For this entire period of Lent, we are going to reflect on the topic of repentance using the 7 penitential psalms. Even in the days of the early church, these psalms were already selected and used precisely for such a purpose; so I thought that perhaps we could try it for the first time in Jubilee this year. As you know, we rotate the gospels every year. After the sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount, if you are keen on continuing the narrative on the Jesus event using the Gospel of Matthew, you can still do that using our Lent devotional materials prepared for you.[1]

When we try to preach from a deeply personal psalm like Psalm 6, or any of the other penitential psalms for the matter, we face an immediate challenge. We quickly discover that it is a song that describes a very specific story, a unique scenario experienced by the Psalmist. How are we to identify with its content when we are 3000 years apart in context? Furthermore, what has another person’s story got to do with you and me? Before we proceed, this conundrum must be addressed. My solution is to treat these psalms as lyrical testimonies. Since they are testimonies, we must give allowance for idiosyncrasies and personalized interpretation. Since they are song lyrics, we must give allowance for creativity and freedom of expression. Hence, we must allow testimonies to remain inherently subjective, and not attempt to twist them into neat doctrines. This is my concern. When we think and speak of God as unchanging, the immutability of God, we might then extrapolate to an extreme conclusion. We end up interacting with God in a very formulaic and robotic manner. Thinking ‘if we do this, God will do that.’ But God is not a machine. Every action and reaction varies based on the dynamics of the relationship. As a parent, I am unchanging in love, goodness and generosity towards my children. But because of different personalities and real-life situations, I would treat each child somewhat differently. In return, they would experience me differently, and know me differently as well. This is the same when we think and speak of God, our “theo-logy”. I say again, we must allow testimonies to remain inherently subjective.

But just because these testimonial psalms are subjective, it doesn’t mean that they have no didactic value. In fact, I think we learn more from testimonies, narratives and stories, far more than from systematic doctrines. You know why? It is because good stories describe humanness authentically. And as humans, when we spot authenticity, our hearts are open to learn. Let’s call it a 3-C effect: Courage, Compassion and Connection.[2] When someone has the courage to speak truly from the heart, whether in speech or in songs, it compels listeners to respond with compassion and connection. We are willing to reach out and put ourselves through the same emotions, because what was conveyed feels true in our hearts too. And that’s how a cultural gap of 3000 years may be bridged. Once I went to a young people small group gathering because they were having a durian party. I was looking through the CD collection of the host, and decided to play a song from my schooling years. Imagine my surprise when all the guys of different ages joined in and sang along. Young and old bonded as one for a spontaneous karaoke moment. That’s when I realized how authenticity could transcend the ages. Human compassion connected us as one, with the lyrics 我很丑可是我很温柔(I may be ugly but I am gentle), even though in my context, I am a handsome man. We connected, because the lyrics were testimonial words expressed with courageous authenticity.

In the same way, Psalm 6 strikes a chord with us because of its authenticity. If we assume King David to be the original psalmist, he had shamelessly (无耻) poured out his inner thoughts through the psalm. All the mental processes of his repentance were laid out in a blatant fashion before us. There was no hiding and no holding back. As fellow humans, this is why we can connect, and suffer alongside him. We are drawn into his world because of David’s shameless confession. I intentionally used the word ‘shameless’, because we often confuse shame with guilt. To put it plainly, guilt is “I did something bad”, shame is “I am bad”. If you confuse the two, you may fail to truly repent. Shame affects our self-worth, and it causes us to fence up ourselves. Shame may even corrode the part of us that believes we can change and do better. But we can be thankful that even though King David was guilt-ridden, he remained ‘shameless’. And in his sorrow and pain, he reached out with his innermost thoughts.

David was most definitely guilty. What he did was wrong. He committed adultery with Beersheba. He killed Uriah the Hittite. But the worst crime was the utter contempt of God’s grace upon him. He has sullied the honor and responsibility of his kingship. 2 Samuel 12: 7 Nathan said to David, “You are that man! This is what the Lord God of Israel says: ‘I chose you to be king over Israel and I rescued you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave you your master’s house, and put your master’s wives into your arms. I also gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all that somehow seems insignificant, I would have given you so much more as well! 9 Why have you shown contempt for the word of the Lord by doing evil in my sight?

David knew he was guilty. 13 David exclaimed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord!” And he knew that this guilt was deserving of death. When Nathan described the guilt using a story, David himself gave the verdict. 5 Then David became very angry at this man. He said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! 6 Because he committed this cold-hearted crime, he must pay for the lamb four times over!” David was guilty and he should die. But guilt and shame are different. His guilt didn’t change his worthiness as a person. He did something bad. But it didn’t mean he was bad. He was still the anointed of the Lord. I believe David knew this in his heart. For even in the worst of King Saul, when he was in pursuit to kill David, and twice when David could retaliate, David said: “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” (1 Sam 24:6; 26:11) I do not know if David felt shame after realizing his guilt. But his response to God’s judgment shows me that he continued to believe in who he was before God. (See 2 Samuel 12:19-23.) Yes, he was guilty. But he could be ‘shameless’. Tonight, I will demonstrate to you how David was ‘shameless’ with God. Some church members might ask you, ‘what did I miss at the Ash Wed night service?’ You can tell them, ‘Pastor Siow Hwee taught me how to be ‘shameless’’. Now let’s examine the mental processes of David.

First, David asked for discipline without anger. Verse 1: 1 Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. God has a right to be angry with sinners. But punishment with anger and without anger can feel very different. John Calvin commented, “(David) does not altogether refuse punishment, for that would be unreasonable; and to be without it, he judged would be more hurtful than beneficial to him: but what he is afraid of is the wrath of God, which threatens sinners with ruin and perdition.”[3] Punishment with anger hurts not just the wrongdoer, but also the relationship. Anger is vented to drive home the point that I must let you hurt as much as it hurts me. David was a broken-hearted man. My sin has destroyed my relationship with God. Punish me, but don’t be angry anymore. Let the sin be dealt with, so that the relationship may be restored.

Then, David asked for deliverance without delay. At the heart of the matter is to understand the dynamics of this relationship. Who are we dealing with? David knew that he was just mere human. And he was dealing with the God of life, and the God of death. It was the Lord who judged and brought about his suffering. But the only way out was the same God who could save him. David might be weak and frail as a human. But that could be an advantage in the negotiation process. Because he was human, he could not withstand God’s judgment for very long. He might die and that relationship would be terminated. So he asked, ‘How long, Lord, how long?’ It does require a lot of shamelessness to pull this off, but it’ll work if you are sincere. You have to bet on God’s love to prevail in the end. Sometimes, even a loving relationship can become strained, and then it becomes a waiting game. Who is the first to forgive? Who is the first to relent? David put himself in the hands of God. He could not last very long. Did God really want the relationship to end just like that? If not, then return to him (v.4). Don’t delay any more.

I admit I’m being a little cheeky here, as if David was playing a psychological game with God. But I’ll be honest with you. Few of us deserve to badger with God like this. David could do this, because he walked deeply with God. And so when the situation arose, he could pray like a mad man, utterly bare and brazen before God. Because God knew that this was a contrite and heart-broken man. Yes, David was heart-broken. He cared more about the relationship than the punishment. His heart was repentant because he just wanted the relationship to be restored once more. And so he could bargain. He could even threaten using his imminent death. But ultimately, because God loved him, all was forgiven because of grace.

Verse 10: All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish; they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame. This testimony starts with David being shameless, and it ends with shame upon his enemies. I think it is a fitting conclusion. The world thinks they know God, but testimonies just as these tell us that God’s grace and love may be too amazing to be contained. They thought it was over between David and God. It’s true that he fully deserved his punishment. He even deserved death. But David cared too much about his relationship with God to give up. And so he pleaded. One might say he even harassed, ‘5 Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave?’ Of course, it doesn’t mean that God suddenly went ‘Oh no, what would I do without David’s praises.’ But his forgiveness meant that he acknowledged David’s repentance and he restored the relationship. It ain’t over till it’s over. David’s enemies thought they knew God. But they were shamed, because David knew God even better.

Our biggest enemy is Shame. It is keeping us from confessing ourselves fully to God. “Shame is basically the fear of being unloveable. Shame keeps worthiness away by convincing us that owning our stories will lead people to think less of us. There is a real fear that we can be buried or defined by an experience that, in reality, is only a sliver of who we are.”[4] The world may tell you that you are not worthy. But you are. Bring your guilt, your weakness, even your darkest secrets to God. Cry if you have to. There is no need for shame. Instead, recognize your worthiness as the beloved of God. And you will be delivered. You will be saved.

[1] http://www.jubilee.org.sg/lent2015/
[2] I’m borrowing a lot of these ideas, especially later discussions on shame from Brené Brown. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bren%C3%A9_Brown
[3] Calvin’s Commentaries, v.4, p.66
[4] Brené Brown, The gifts of imperfection, p 39

Psalm 6 (Listen)

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments; according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.

6:1   O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
    nor discipline me in your wrath.
  Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
    heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
  My soul also is greatly troubled.
    But you, O LORD—how long?
  Turn, O LORD, deliver my life;
    save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
  For in death there is no remembrance of you;
    in Sheol who will give you praise?
  I am weary with my moaning;
    every night I flood my bed with tears;
    I drench my couch with my weeping.
  My eye wastes away because of grief;
    it grows weak because of all my foes.
  Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
    for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
  The LORD has heard my plea;
    the LORD accepts my prayer.
10   All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
    they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.

(ESV)