“O LORD, rebuke me not in Your wrath, and chasten me not in Your burning anger.” Psalm 38:1
To bring to remembrance – Have you ever prayed a pray like this? Have you reached the point, long after the Lord has redeemed you, long after you recognize your sinful condition and your desperate need for grace, where you are still overwhelmed with fear of God’s judgment? This is a prayer of intense intimacy. David doesn’t address God in formal terms. This is not a recitation from the Common Book of Prayer. This is right from the heart.
The opening phrase may not be translated. It’s almost a sidebar, but it’s important. “A psalm of David. To bring to remembrance.” It isn’t even in the numbered verses.
What is it that David wants to remember? His sinful acts. His rebellious disobedience. These are usually the last things we want to recall. We stuff them away in the “forgiven and forgotten” closet, hoping that our fellow human beings are as willing to throw them into the depths of the sea as God is. But not David. He deliberately brings them to mind. He may not be confessing some specific indiscretion in the following verses, but he is clearly thinking about a host of actions that he took against his God. And it is that totality of perversity that weighs on his soul. He looks back and sees the amassed accumulation of his sin. He sees that over and over, in spite of grace and forgiveness, he has wandered from the path of righteousness. And the fiery brand of guilt sears the flesh of his soul with an indelible imprint. He doesn’t deserve God’s love or God’s favor. Like Isaiah, he wails, “Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips”.
We live in an era of “forget-forgiveness”. We put the emphasis on the dismissal of our unrighteous catalog of thoughts and behaviors. We compartmentalize guilt. It belongs on the shelf right alongside those old toys and discarded high school yearbooks. Don’t remind us of our past failures. We are a people fixated on the future. Look ahead, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you memory erasers. No, says David. I need to remember. I need to know what I am really like without Him. I need to remind myself that I am not so capable, not so wonderful, not so spiritual. There is no credit due me in this life. My memories are useful deflators of ego. They show me what I would certainly prefer to forget, but when I forget I have the tendency to pretend that I am not really like the person who cheated on his spouse, defrauded his employer, lied to his children, took advantage of his friends. Kodak moments must register the capacity of my sinfulness. If all I recall are the moments of light and joy, what reason will I have for coming back with thanksgiving? Memory cancels pride. Let me remember.
David uses the Hebrew word zakar in a passive sense. He wants “to bring to memory”, “to cause to be remembered”. One nuance of this verb is the idea of acknowledgement. Yes, I am forgiven. But also yes, I need to acknowledge the reason that I must be forgiven. Lord, let me remember – and worship You.