Against you only have I sinned

When I bought my first computer, I wanted one with the right socket for plugging in the keyboard I’d brought with me from Israel, which had Hebrew on it. I went into a shop, looked at their laptop selection, chose one that seemed to answer my other requirements but nowhere did it say if it had a PS1 socket or not, so I asked the guy behind the counter. He went away to check, and came back and told me that yes, it did. I bought the laptop and took it home with me, went through all the installation process and… you guessed it, I then discovered that I couldn’t plug that keyboard in because no, the computer did not have that type of socket.

Needless to say, I wasn’t very impressed with that shop. Whether that guy made an honest mistake – looked up the wrong model or something – or whether he deliberately lied to me just so that he could make a sale, I don’t know. I’d like to think it was an honest mistake. But deliberately or not, he did mislead me. He gave me incorrect information about the product, which meant my decision to make the purchase was not an informed decision. He was setting me up for disappointment.

A few years ago I set out to post something online which would explain to people in a chatty, jargon-free style, in my own words, what the Gospel of Jesus is all about. I didn’t set out to mislead anyone, but recently God challenged me about what I’d written back then and showed me that I had made a mistake. An honest mistake, not deliberately seeking to mislead anyone, but a mistake nonetheless, which I needed to correct.

The challenge came when we had Psalm 51 read out in church and a half-verse leapt at me, where David says to God:

Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight

This is a psalm of confession and repentance, asking God for forgiveness and for cleansing and renewal. Obviously David is being poetic here, emphasising his sin against God with “only” – he had in fact sinned not only against God, but also against Uriah, first committing adultery with Uriah’s wife and then having the guy murdered as a cover-up. But David understands that his sin isn’t just against Uriah, who is dead and gone now – he understands that there’s something else at stake, something bigger. He has sinned against God, the almighty creator of the universe.

And that is the bit I had omitted from that stuff I’d written. Not deliberately, not sitting in front of the computer and thinking: I’m going to be devious and just not mention that sin is against God, not thinking: I’d better not mention this or people won’t buy it. No. Just getting carried away with an idea I had and not noticing what I was omitting, until suddenly, a few Sundays ago, I heard this psalm and realised what I’d done. I had tried to explain things in a way that people would understand – but in doing that, I forgot an important part of the message. Because that part is one that is, I think, pretty hard for people in the western world today to understand.

Because the general consensus in the west today is: do what you like as long as you don’t hurt anyone. I was brought up on that principle, it’s precisely what I remember my mother telling me when I was growing up. And so when I tried to put the gospel message into my own words, I unthinkingly translated it through the lens of that principle: I focused on sins in which we hurt other people, because these are the things that most people today would agree are really wrong. Most people agree that it’s generally wrong to murder, torture, rob, rape, etc. But the idea that there may be stuff that’s sin just because God says so – that would require accepting God’s authority, respecting him as the ultimate arbitrator, saying: yes, you made the world and you made us and you know what’s best, so if you say we shouldn’t do X then we shouldn’t. And the western world today doesn’t go with that way of thinking – we think we know better, and if what God says doesn’t make sense to us then we just throw it away.

King David had a very different attitude, and in that verse I half-quoted earlier he says:

Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.

It’s very tempting to avoid mentioning that stuff because, well, it might put people off, they might not understand, it goes so very much against the grain. A bit like when you’re trying to sell a product and you’re tempted to gloss over the stuff that you think the customer wouldn’t like so much – it’s that sort of thing that gives some estate agents and second hand car salesmen a bad reputation, when they neglect to mention that the house is being sold because of really noisy neighbours or that the car has been repainted to cover up some damage… Or telling someone that yes, this laptop comes with a PS1 socket, leaving her to find that out the truth after she got it home.

But if I tell people about a deal that sounds appealing, but actually it isn’t the deal God is really offering – that would just be super irresponsible. That’s a bit like if I were to offer people tickets for a flight to the moon, tell them all they have to do is sign the form and turn up at a particular time and place, but in reality the flight is taking only people who have, I don’t know, say only people who have got the right gear for surviving on the moon and you have to get that gear beforehand from a specialist shop which I didn’t bother to tell you about because I thought you’d be put off by the thought of having to go all that way just for that.

If I’m going to try telling people about the way to salvation, I’d better give them the right info. After all, I do believe this is a question of life and death.

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If you want to see the updated version of what I’ve written, it’s on my yola site.

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Bible quotes taken from the New American Standard Bible.

One thought on “Against you only have I sinned

  1. Wonderful, marvelous, glorious insight. And, might I say, an excellent word picture for your readers: relating the PS1 socket to your realization of past omissions to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Like

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