Do You Think That a Man Can Change?
Earlier this month I watched one of my favorite Christmas movies. (Hush. It’s not too early. No, it’s not.) I’ve watched this film every year for I don’t know how many years now. It began as a Max Lucado book called The Christmas Cross, and became the movie The Christmas Child.
Near the end, there’s a quiet scene in which the main character, Jack, with a weary and heavy heart, asks a profound little question. “Do you think that a man can change?”
Jack doesn’t even know yet the real identity of the old man to whom he poses the question. But that man replies with his own heavy, remorseful, “I hope so.”
The morning after I watched the movie was a Friday. Fridays in the Divine Office are reliable and grounding. Every Friday we pray Psalm 51, the humbling cry of King David calling on God’s mercy. David is guilty of grave sin. This great king, chosen by God above all other men, from whose lineage would come the Messiah Himself, has done wicked, terrible things. He was a lustful, covetous, duplicitous, murderous thief.
There is blood on his hands, and now at last, sorrow in his heart. He sees himself and his evil deeds with painful clarity, thanks to a whacking upside the head from the prophet Nathan.
The Audacity and Humility of David
Do you think that a man can change?
That little question came back to me as I read David’s cry of remorse to God. Marvel for a moment at David’s abiding trust in God in that Psalm. Knowing all the evil he has done, knowing how gravely he has sinned against God, knowing he has no right to ask pardon, he still believes that God will hear him and show him mercy.
He dares to ask for what he does not deserve. He has the audacity to go to God with blood on his hands and ask to be washed clean. He has the nerve to ask God to restore in him what has been broken. And He believes God will do it.
In fact, he goes a step further even. He tells God that if He will give David a clean heart again, a steadfast spirit within him again, the presence of the Holy Spirit again, with the joy of salvation, then he will teach transgressors the ways of God and sinners will return to Him.
I’ve read that verse many times, but that morning it struck me differently.
Pay Attention, Transgressors
David has never ceased teaching transgressors about God’s ways so that sinners might return to Him.
If King David can fall so spectacularly from grace and honor and betray God so heinously, then realize his sin, repent of that sin, implore God’s mercy and receive that mercy and be restored, then so can you. So can I. So can any sinner.
David had no excuses. He’d been granted unheard of blessings and favor by Almighty God and he wanted for nothing. Until he wanted what did not belong to him and his desires became unholy. Then he abused his power, satisfied his lust, and schemed to kill an innocent man to try and cover his tracks. David’s transgression was most foul. And there would be a terrible price to pay, for sin always brings death with it.
How It’s Done
Even so, this is the man “after God’s own heart,” and here is one good reason why. David teaches us what it means to repent, and how to repent, and why we must repent of our sin. From Psalm 51:
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless in your judgment. … Behold, you desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow … let the bones you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
Sinner, you and I have done what is evil in God’s sight. That is the truth we need in our inward being. That is the wisdom David shares with us. We need to be purged with hyssop. We need a new spirit within us. We must repent.
Do you think that a man can change?
Yes, I do, and so does King David, because he knows that God is ready to wash us clean, whiter than snow, blotting out all our iniquities and putting a steadfast spirit within us. Repentance brings restoration. God is faithful in mercy when we are stained with guilt and sin. If we will only follow David’s example.
Jennifer Hartline is a senior contributor to The Stream. She is a proud wife and mother of four daughters. You can follow her at @jenniehartline.