What boldness the Psalmist shows to pray for God to search her or his heart, to see that they are blameless! For me, I remember in my first times of prayer finding the thought that the gaze of God upon my soul was as crystal clear as this psalm suggests a bit frightening. My church upbringing had brought home to me how very much I was not one who was blameless, and I was well aware of my own sins and failings. How could I pray this prayer?
I find as I face into this psalms’ words those same feelings of uncertainty, doubt, guilt, and shame that I grew up having in the conservative church of my childhood resurface. I wonder about them. There is a very real sense that none of us on our own truly can say we are blameless. This is a part of the message of the New Testament: the only truly sinless One in the Christ who came among us, living a broken life of flesh and blood paving the way of true life through his example, his life, his teachings, his death, & resurrection. The Gospel message is that Jesus alone is the One who truly is blameless and it is only through his merit, through his standing in for me not just in death but in life, that I can pray this prayer. He, the blameless one, alone can pray to be sought out in his soul by God and in that moment be found without guilt and impurity.
But remembering these feelings of guilt, insecurity, that a “sin” and “law”-based religion produced in me as a young Christian, I begin to realize the value of a statement Rev. Mark Sandlin of The God Article once said: if we are sending the message to people that the point of Christianity is that people are essentially broken, we are missing Jesus’ message. The fact an imperfect person can approach God and say boldly “search my heart” shows that they have been emboldened by a knowledge deep within that they will not be cast off for imperfections, for failings, for mistakes.
Ultimately a part of why grace is the central message of the New Testament is that God as Jesus, Paul, and the early Christians experienced God was not one who views us first and foremost through the eyes of a law-giver, judge. Rather God is first and foremost one who views at us with the eyes of love. The picture Christians use for God’s relationship with us is the relationship Jesus shares with the Father and the Spirit. The Father and Spirit are described as relating to Christ with the love and acceptance of a father and mother. At his baptism, the Father tears open heaven itself to whisper the words “this is my son, whom I love, and in whom I am well-pleased”. At that moment the Spirit hovers over Jesus like a protective mother dove extending her wings of protection, love, and embrace over her new-born babe.
As Christians we proclaim that we have been given a Spirit of adoption by which we can join Jesus in crying out to God “abba! Father!”. This means by faith and identification with Jesus we know that God looks at each and everyone of us with the same eyes God relates to Christ. Each of us have within us the capacity to experience Christ born in our hearts, as we open to the living God. Because of this we can know that whatever imperfections we bear, whatever failures or mistakes we make, still God looks at us with the eyes of love and says “you, you, child, are the one that I love. You are my child. I am well-pleased with you”. We can know that the Spirit too hovers over us with mother love, extending those same wings of acceptance, embrace, and protection proclaiming us as God’s own child.
God looks at us with mother and father love then, which clearly sees our imperfections, our failures, our mistakes but not in a way that rejects us. Rather through Christ’s life we are shown the remarkable truth: a parent does not reject her child for imperfections and failings. Rather she or he loves them. And not just despite them. Seen with a mother or father’s love, the imperfections and vulernabilities of the new-born baby is exactly what makes them valuable, loveable. For no other reason than that they are their child, the Parent loves and is well-pleased in their children. They are perfectly imperfect.
This morning I am reminded in meditating on this psalm that is how you and I, and each person who has ever lived is viewed by God – as Beloved, embraced, and accepted. Such knowledge should embolden us to come freely to God and ask God to seek out our heart for every impurity, knowing certain that such sights will not lead to rejection but deeper embrace by the One we know as Love.
The irony of course is that it is just such a seeking alone that allows the Christ to be ever more borne in our souls, because only in allowing God to reveal to us through the searching Love of God our imperfections, failings, shortcomings, can we ever begin to lay aside our fears, selfishness, self-destructive practices. Knowing that you are not rejected but embraced by Grace frees you and frees me to truly be open to God’s deep-seeing eyes and transforming touch. Only in such confidence can we have the transformation that is needed.
I also am reminded of a point C. S. Lewis makes in his book Reflections on the Psalms, that getting away from viewing such searching for blamelessness as being a searching for perfection enables us to recognize the psalms as a statement of one who is oppressed. Often these psalms are the statement of the one being unfairly oppressed and mistreated, crying out to God saying “I am blameless in this circumstance. I do not deserve to be oppressed, mistreated”. Read in such a way, we are called to hear the cry of oppressed people around us as a statement of this prayer, a cry saying “I do not deserve to be oppressed”.
When we face oppression, a view of ourselves as so broken, damaged, sinful, and guilty we are beyond help – the image of people I too often got from my conservative Bible-thumping religion of my childhood – can keep us from truly discovering our own worth. It can cause us to be trapped where we do not feel empowered to recognize we do not deserve the abuse, mistreatment, and prejudice we face. It can keep us from discovering our voice and learning to set the boundary that we can do when we recognize in our heart we are truly children of the King, deserving of respect not abuse. If you are facing such abuse, the voice of God in your life is wherever you are hearing that you do not need to accept such abuse any longer for as a child of God, you deserve more and better.
Also feeling we will be cast aside if our imperfections are found out makes it hard for us to face our own prejudices. Each of us have ways we judge others, mistreat others, or buy into patterns of injustice. Feeling we must be perfect to approach the all-seeing eye of God or risk being abandoned for being imperfect can lead us to come up with justifications and excuses for the ways we buy into the very injustice that makes such a prayer as this psalm so important. Ironically, it is our attempt to prove ourselves blameless that keeps us from being able to live out being the person of justice this prayer calls us to be. Only by accepting that God will not reject us for our imperfections we can become open to God showing us bit by bit the ways in which our choices have hurt, oppressed, or marginalized others. Once we know the unconditional grace of God we are set free more and more to face into our own complicity with injustice in ways that both liberate us and help us learn to be people of liberation in our own lives.
So let us come boldly to God, praying open-heartedly for God to search our hearts, knowing that God may call us to reject certain actions, attitudes, and patterns in our lives that are self-destructive but that God in Christ will not reject us. Rather God will even more deeply embrace us, helping Christ be borne even more deeply in our hearts, for in Christ we already are loved, embraced, and accepted just as we are in Christ.