Read Psalm 51:15-17
15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise. (NIV)
In medieval times there were groups of people called flagellants. They wandered round in bands beating themselves with crudely made whips and branches. The idea being that they impressed on those they met the seriousness of sin. It was done in order to somehow appease a God who allowed things like the Black Death to sweep through Christendom.
Fortunately we don’t have to indulge in anything like that. Our shortcomings are indeed serious and a holy God can’t tolerate them. But the good news is that Jesus has dealt with that problem by taking on himself the debt of obedience we owed to God. Loudly lamenting our sins and scourging ourselves for them is a sad denial of the work of Jesus for us.
The psalmist David was well aware of his failures. But going through elaborate rituals in order to say sorry was not going to help. David knew that God looked beyond externals and into the human heart. The proper response to displeasing God is a broken heart. And this is not just another form of self-inflicted sadism. It is a deep realisation that we have strayed from the one who loves us.
Those who would come close and stay close to God must become familiar with a broken heart and contrite spirit. Not as a sign of despair or misery or self-pity. Rather as a sign of helpless trust. We can’t stay on track on our own. We need help. We come to God with broken hearts knowing he will not despise them but instead mend them.