The pain that David dealt with was a real and existential. If Nathan had never come to David to hold him accountable, perhaps David could have brushed the pain under the rug, per se. This, though, was impossible. The pain David experienced wasn’t just a result of his misuse Bathsheba, his murder of Uriah, or his overall abuse of his office. No, the pain that David felt was a result of his abuse of his relationship with God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” David’s offense against Uriah, Bathsheba, and his office can be seen solely as an offense towards God Himself.
Psalm 51 is David’s response to the fact that he offended God. There are several things that become clear in reading Psalm 51. First, David takes full ownership of his offense. This is evident in v. 3 “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” Though he might have done so before his encounter with Nathan, David isn’t trying to hedge his bets here. He goes on in v. 5, ”Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Nevertheless, you desired faithfulness . . . “
Second, David realizes that his offense has ruptured his relationship with God. David’s offense isn’t just evidence that he is a bad person. The result of his offense is a broken relationship with God. David knows what is at stake here. Look at v. 11, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” David is well aware that there is a price to be paid with God for his offense.
Lastly, David acknowledges that it is only God that can heal the relationship. Despite being responsible for the broken relationship, David cannot heal it - only God can. See vs. 1-2 and v. 7, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin . . . cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I’ll be whiter than snow.”
On Ash Wednesday as we enter into the Lenten season we as believers do as David did. We confess and own our offenses. Secondly, we acknowledge that these offenses are primarily offenses against God. Our abuse and misuse of others really is an abuse and misuse of our relationship with God. Thirdly, we acknowledge that only God can heal the broken relationship between Him and ourselves. He finally does this through the person and work of Jesus Christ.