Where does this desire for blood and death come from, I wonder. This rage for slaughter. Is it merely us? Merely who we are? Merely how we were designed and made?
This idea that when we kill. When we offer our violence up to God. In war, for example. That we are doing something right. That we are righteous when we do this. Where does this idea come from?
And when we harm someone. When we do an evil to someone else. And we say to ourselves that the person deserves it. Had it coming. Is better off for it. Where do we get this odd idea?
Had it coming? The person, we think, had it coming, as though, what? As though we were God? As though we were the very instrument of God’s justice? As though we were God’s own intimates on the ways of his justice?
I was reading Psalm 51 the other day. A Psalm that has fascinated me for years. The Miserere or the Miserere Mei. The Psalm in which David asks God for mercy for what he has done—committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah the Hittite, killed in battle.
Nathan, the prophet, has come to David and told him a story about a rich man with many sheep and a poor man, who only has one little lamb. A traveler visits the rich man. The rich man entertains the man and takes the lamb from the poor man for the traveler’s dinner. In response, David says, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die. He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
Nathan is of course teaching David something about how to live by telling him a little story. At first, David doesn’t recognize the parallels between his own life and the story, but Nathan helps him to understand. David is the rich man. The rich man who in David’s own words “deserves to die.” But of course God does not kill David. God does not insist upon a justice that David would have insisted on.
And so, recognizing his guilt and the horror of what he has done, David asks God for mercy. He asks him to wash away his sin. But of course the source of his sin cannot be washed away. It remains with him. In him. It can only be forgiven.
David asks God to create a pure heart in him. Which is of course impossible. But he also asks God to not cast him from God’s presence and not to take his Holy Spirit from him. He asks for the joy of his salvation to be restored and a willing spirit.
He asks to be saved from his bloodguilt. From the evil that is in him and has been from birth.
And then comes the really interesting part. As if momentarily touched by divine inspiration, David says, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;/you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.”
And then David says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;/a broken and contrite heart,/O God, you will not despise.”
As if blood sacrifices of all kinds are not what God is after. As if human justice that involves killing is not what God is after at all. As if what God is after—and he is willing to suspend his own judgment and punishment and justice to get it—is humility and recognition of one’s own sinfulness and contrition and grief over what one has done. Over who one is without God. As if what God is after is our understanding of how lost we are without God’s forgiveness and his participation in our lives.
It’s almost as if the evil that is in us is there by design. It’s almost as if God wants us to understand him and to seek him and the means for our coming to this is the evil that is in us. An evil that we cannot deal with on our own. An evil that requires us to find God.