God's Grading System

Carol Bechtel

READ : Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love. (v. 1 NRSV)

Even students who aren’t particularly good at math learn to appreciate what happens when the teacher grades on a curve. As if by magic, failing grades get transformed into passing grades. The students don’t get any more answers right, it’s just that the teacher has calculated the scores differently.

Psalm 51 is the prayer of a failing student who is pleading with his Teacher to score his test using a radically gracious grading system. And this system is even better than the “curve.” This system simply substitutes God’s “steadfast love” for the psalmist’s sins (v. 1), transforming an “F” into an “A.”

As a teacher, I can’t help feeling that this student has a lot of nerve. But as a sinner, I’m right there beside him, standing in front of the Teacher’s desk, knowing that I too have failed the test.

Traditionally, this prayer of repentance is linked to the sordid story of David’s murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. If that’s true, then David was asking a lot when he begged God to blot out his transgressions (v. 1). Still, it’s encouraging to know that even someone who sins on that scale can pray this prayer. It invites us as believers to pray this prayer too, filling in the blanks with our own sins. After all, when we stand before the Teacher’s desk, it’s not David’s sins that “are ever before us” (v. 3). It’s our own.


Create in me a clean heart, O God.