Preying on the vulnerable, exploiting the faithful, manipulating the loyal, harming the weak: abuse in any of its many forms is utterly despicable, a violation of God’s image within His people and a frontal assault against Himself. But what happens when an abuser repents? What does it look like when someone guilty of such heinous crimes confesses their wrongs and wants to be forgiven? Incredibly, we have been given access to the personal diary of a repentant abuser.
God receives the confession of an abuser.
David was guilty of all of the above, and worse. He had done the unthinkable with one of the women in his congregation and had tried to cover it up with the “accidental” murder of her husband. Full of justice and righteous indignation, God had confronted David with his crimes and pronounced him guilty. What recourse was left for this convicted abuser? Where could he go from here?
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
God had always been his refuge in times of crisis, but this time God was his judge, not his defender. This time David was the perpetrator of evil, not its victim. Turning to God would mean getting closer to his accuser. David knew how God dealt with the wicked. How often had he prayed down God’s judgment and vindication on others? Terrified. Defenseless. And yet David also knew that God was his only hope, the only one who could rescue him from himself.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.
And so David flung himself at God’s feet, with no grounds for appeal except for God’s compassion. No excuses, no avoidance, no self-defense. He openly admitted just how wrong he had been. He grieved over how deeply he had offended God and acknowledged that God had every right to be angry with him. He affirmed God’s ruling: God was right, and he was wrong.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
As David examined himself in God’s presence, his understanding of himself became increasingly humble. He was deeply flawed. In fact, he came to realize that he had always been flawed; he had never been above such depths of depravity. Of course God held him to a high standard of integrity and righteousness in all of his dealings, both public and private. But that was beyond him, apart from God’s help and intervention.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
David lost all confidence in himself, but he gained a greater hope in God. He had blown it, but God could make it right. He was tainted, but God could make him clean. He was ruined, but God could restore him. He was faulty, but God could re-create him.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
God could do all that for David, but the outstanding question was: would He? David had seen what happened to Saul, his abuser, when God had confronted him in a similar way. God had stripped him of his honor, rejected him as a leader and, worst of all, removed His Spirit from him. The memory of Saul’s tormented face was fresh in David’s memory. Terrified of being abandoned by God, David begged God not to leave. All he could do was plead for God to save him, to restore him, and to keep his heart and mind in the right place from now on.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
David knew he had no leverage with God, no way to obligate Him to put his inexcusable actions behind His back and restore him to leadership. He couldn’t bribe God with extravagant offerings; he couldn’t appease Him with sacrificial service. All he could bring to God were his brokenness over what he had done and his deep desire to change.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you. Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
If God would accept these, if God would restore him, then David wanted nothing more than to use his failures to aid him in helping fellow sinners discover God’s redeeming grace. He would not cover up the abuses he had perpetrated; he would allow his weakness to be shown so that the incredible extent of God’s love could be put on display.
David recorded his failures and fears, his laments and longings for God and all the rest of us to hear. His prayer of confession not only models what a righteous response to personal sin looks like, it also holds out hope for all abusers who grieve over the damage they have caused others and the pain they have caused God. God receives the true confession of an abuser. He welcomes all who come to Him with a contrite heart. And as the story of David goes on to show, He uses broken leaders to build up His church.