Yearning to Be Created Anew
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Psalm 51 is a heartfelt, aching prayer for forgiveness. In this prayer, David begins by crying out to God for mercy (v. 1). He asks to be cleansed of his guilt (v. 2), freely acknowledging his sin and God's right to judge him (vv. 3-4). David yearns to be, not just forgiven, but also purified (v. 7). He hopes to rejoice again in God's goodness that restores David's goodness (v. 8).
Then, he makes an astounding request: "Create in me a clean heart, O God." The word translated here as "clean" (tahor in Hebrew) refers in the Old Testament to pure precious metals as well as to ritual cleanliness. It describes something in which there is nothing opposed to or offensive to God, not the tiniest stain or impurity.
The fact that David prays to be made clean and pure is not especially astounding, however. The rest of the prayer prepares us for this request. The startling element of the prayer is the verb bara in Hebrew. We find this verb in the first verse of the Bible: "In the beginning God created [bara’] the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). In Scripture, only God can create, only God can make something out of nothing, only God can make something old truly new. By asking God to create in him a clean heart, David understands that only God can do what he needs. He yearns for more than just forgiveness. David wants a fresh start, a pure heart, a new creation.
In this audacious request, David anticipates the work of Christ. By taking our sin upon himself, Jesus Christ did more than guarantee our forgiveness. He also began a renewal process, a work of re-creation throughout the cosmos. As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:17, " [A]nyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" Actually, the Greek of this verse reads even more strikingly: "If anyone is in Christ, new creation! The old things have passed away. Look! They have become new."
Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God forgives our sins. This is great news. God also justifies us, declaring us to be right in his sight. This is doubly great news. But, through Christ, God also makes us new, creating in us a clean, fresh, pure heart. When God is finished with us, it is as if we had never sinned in the first place. We are that new.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you long to be created anew? Have you cried out in prayer as David did? How have you experienced the newness Christ brings?
PRAYER: O Lord, like David, I cry out to you to create in me a clean heart. I thank you for all the ways you have begun this process of renewal in me. Yet, there is so much more to do. Cleanse me, O God, of all that is opposed to you. Bring to life in me new passion for you, new commitment to you, new joy in your grace. May I be more and more who I truly am in you.
All praise be to you, O God, for the new creation I am in Christ. Amen.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge Youth Camp, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.