March 12, 2009
by Patrick Lafferty
For You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
You will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
Alice is a buoyant, vibrant school counselor. Her airline pilot husband, Michael, sports both a steely eye and a warm grin. Together they form a blended family with two daughters, a precocious nine-year-old, Jess, and her adoring four-year-old sister, Casey. We’re introduced to the Greens, who seem by all appearances an affable, affectionate family in the 1994 film When a Man Loves a Woman.
In short order, though, we learn not all is well with the Green family. Alice has a drinking problem, eliciting from her both the sophomoric and flamboyant. When Michael begins to challenge her intemperance she, as alcoholics are wont to do, denies a problem, and soon seeks to conceal her addiction, which even she knows is growing unmanageable. One night, as Alice takes advantage of her husband’s absence by spending another night bingeing, Jess tries to take matters into her own hands to get her mother to stop. Erratic and angered by Jess’s hopeless attempt at intervention, Alice strikes her child.
The next morning, reeling from the stupor that led to the incident, she tearfully tells her husband upon his return, “I hit her hard.”
So much harm done so quickly. What could be done to begin the healing? It would’ve been obscene for Alice to come to her daughter with gifts or treats, or to promise her lavish trips. Something had to precede such offerings. Only contrition—transparent, broken-hearted sorrow—could start the reconciliation. Only with anguish for the harm done, honest appreciation for the one she’d harmed, and an adamant desire to bring healing to the relationship could the process begin. There is a sequence to reconciliation; and no gift can substitute for contrition.
King David says as much in his own process of restoration before God. Though the Law prescribed animal sacrifices of various kinds for sin, no sacrificial gift could replace what it was only meant to represent—namely, contrition. To offer a sacrifice without having come to terms with the magnitude and significance of the sin was to short-circuit the process of reconciliation by putting it out of sequence. David had inflicted immense harm in rapid fashion, and, with time and rebuke, recognized that sequence. He knew the Lord would “not delight in sacrifice” until there was first a sacrifice of brokenness—an honest appraisal of the harm he’d done and of the value of those he’d harmed. David, too, knew how obscene it would’ve been to bring gifts to Bathsheba, or a burnt offering to the Lord, without evidence of brokenness for his sin.
Unless contrition preceded offering, David and Alice would’ve believed they could have genuinely compensated for their respective sins. Yet nothing could compensate! What gift could bring back Uriah? What treasure could wipe the memory of Alice’s blow from Jess’s memory?
Why make much of the sequence and substance of reconciliation? We live in a culture that highly esteems the power to purchase, to lavish others with gifts. How tempted are you to circumvent the process of reconciliation with those you harm by putting forth expensive offerings instead of laying your heart bare before them, acknowledging your regret for doing them wrong? Have you ever bought a flower when a heartfelt admission of folly was really called for? Have you ever opted for an expensive purchase rather than an extensive apology? How David sought reconciliation with the Lord is not unlike how we must seek it with each other.
We live before a Lord who would accept no gift from us until a right Sacrifice had been made acknowledging the harmfulness of our very nature. He would take no delight in any offering of our time, treasure, or talent from us without a prerequisite expression of sorrow for sin. This burden he laid upon His own Son. Jesus wept for us. He was contrite for us before the God who sent Him to that cross, and thereby models that sequence of reconciliation. He does more than model, though. By His sorrow we’re reminded that we live not before a philosophy, but before a Father who knows our “inward parts” (Psalm 139:13) and our “weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). Contrition—or in Paul’s words, godly grief (2 Corinthians 7:10ff)—removes any illusions about our sin but also restores us to a Lord who is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (Exodus 34:5). For those reasons must we make much of brokenness, for the sake of our fellowship with the Lord and with each other.