And I shall be pure . . .
Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
~ from Psalm 51
In case you ever wondered what “hyssop” is — nobody actually knows. There is an herb that is called “hyssop” today, but most likely, the ancient Hebrew word in Psalm 51 refers to some other herb used to purify, purge, or soothe.
Not that it matters. The psalm is not encouraging us to use literal hyssop; the herb is a metaphor for God’s power to cleanse us of our sin. The world is full of people carrying a load of guilt about something and looking for somebody to absolve them. It weighs them down, in some cases, for their entire lives. If you ever want to read a great treatment of this theme, read Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad.
Early in the book, Jim, an officer on a British freighter, abandons a ship filled with pilgrims somewhere in the Indian Ocean because it is about to sink. He eventually goes to hide in some unknown jungle civilization, perhaps on the Malay Peninsula, and spends decades slowly becoming an important personage in a primitive society, doing them great good. But he always carries the guilt for abandoning a ship full of people, until finally, he dies voluntarily for a wrongdoing he didn’t commit.
It is essentially a Christian story, although Jim is a mixture of Christ and one who comes to believe in Christ; like Christ, he dies for something he really is not guilty of; but like us, he is reborn again, in a moral sense, by death.
When we are born again in Christ, God washes us. We become pure and free from sin, in the eyes of God. If we continue to carry around guilt, we see an opportunity to grow in our faith, for ultimately our “guilt” has become meaningless. Guilt is a thing of this world, and the better we internalize the Bible’s injunction, “do not conform to the things of the world,” the more our guilt must disappear. So search your heart to see if you are carrying guilt or anxiety, and if so, ask God to wash it away.
And then, “wash, rinse, repeat,” as the saying goes. Keep at it — it is God’s will that you not feel guilty or anxious. Grow in Christ and this is a blessing that will come to you right here and now.
Lord God, forgive me for my sins and teach me not to repeat them; and let me have faith enough not to feel guilty about them. Amen.
~ Mason Barge
Editor, Daily Prayer