Hunting the Lord

To thee only have I sinned,

and have done evil before thee:

that thou mayst be justified in thy words,

and mayst overcome when thou art judged.

For behold I was conceived in iniquities;

and in sins did my mother conceive me.

For behold thou hast loved truth:

the uncertain and hidden things of thy wisdom

thou hast made manifest to me.

Psalm 50, Miserere

Sin is a denial of God, and therefore of all that is true and good. In itself, it can only lead to destruction and death.

As King David learned, however, God in his mercy can use our sins to bring us back to life.

Having sinned with Bethsabee, and abused his royal authority to betray a friend to death, David is confronted with the gravity of his crimes by God’s messenger Nathan.

Psalm 50 captures the response that turned David’s fall into God’s triumph in his soul.

In the lines selected above, David ponders his iniquity, and in doing so discovers certain truths that seem to have been previously obscure to him.

To begin with, he sees that the essence of sin is rupturing our relationship to God. Though David has injured others, his victims remain under the Lord’s providential care. Yet David has in effect “judged” or repudiated God, placing himself on the wrong side of divine justice.

When we sin, there is no question that God will overcome our opposition. The only question is whether we will share in his victory, by surrendering ourselves to him.

Confirming this need for self-abandonment is David’s realization that, like every descendent of Adam, he was conceived in, and is therefore wholly steeped in, sin. For all of us, wounded in our very nature, the justice and wisdom of God are at best “uncertain and hidden things.”

What happens next is powerfully expressed in this musical rendering by Johann Christian Bach.

As the horns and cadence suggest, David is on the hunt, striving with all his might to discover the truth about himself and his God. At key moments, the pace slackens, and David is moaning in near desperation. A swirling sensation indicates confusion—or is it conversion?

A succession of voices—soprano, tenor, bass, chorus—testifies that David is persistent in seeking the Lord, with every part of his being, despite every bramble and loss of scent.

At last, David’s labors bear fruit, as the seeker realizes he is the one being sought. The truth of God’s love, which he has learned to love in its hiddenness, is now made manifest to him!

For J.C.’s setting of the entire Psalm, see this masterful recording by Rias Kammerchor and Akademie Für Alte Musik Berlin (CD, download).

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