In Psalm 37 (38) we experience the nature of the true repentance King David offers to God. He is able to see the depths of His sinfulness and how awful it must look in the eyes of God. He even compares it to a pus filled festering wound. He is not referring to a physical wound but the wound in his soul. Seeing the loving nature of God David holds nothing back in his examination of his fallen condition. He pleads with humility for God’s help.
Archimandrite Amilianos of Simonopetra on Mt. Athos offers us an outstanding commentary on this Psalm (Psalms and the Life of Faith, p 223). Here are a couple of quotes from His commentary:
“Consciousness of sin is your point of contact with God”
“No one can comprehend his sinfulness, no matter how great it might be, unless he has glimpsed the holiness of God.”
As you think about these two comments you can see how sin, in his eyes and those of the great king David, are quite different from our normal view of sin. Mostly we think of sin as breaking a commandment of God, like breaking a law. But David is giving us an example, along with the the commentary of Aimianos, that there is much more to understanding sin.
What does it mean when we say, “sin is the point of contact with God?” Doesn’t this imply a personal relationship with Him? Our true sinfulness is normally suppressed deep in our subconsciousness because most of us think of ourselves as “good” people. But, no! Deep down inside there is a festering sore in our soul. When we uncover this we do so in relationship with our God. Bringing us into contact with Him, we see Him as a loving God who will forgive and heal. Because of His love, we can see the level of perfection that is in God Himself. We realize that we are far from our potential. We are humbled in front of God. We eagerly seek mercy and healing.
The second quote says that no one can comprehend their sinfulness unless they have “glimpsed the holiness of God.” What does this imply? To know our sinfulness we cannot simply go down a check list of sins and identify our sins and expect God to heal us. We need to have our inner heart enlightened by God. Only when we have known the nature of His holiness can we truly see how sinful we are. This is not a negative thing that will throw us into despair, because, as we see His holiness, we will also see His infinite mercy, His unconditional love that never wavers. It is this love that enables us to see what we have hidden deep in our subconscious mind.
So what are we to do to come closer to God? We must seek to know His holiness so our true sinfulness can be revealed to us. It takes more than a surface self-reflection to get to the root of our fallen nature. This is why the saints are always talking about how sinful they are. As we come closer to God, we come to know our potential and what is necessary to be united with Him in eternal life. The Orthodox Way of life will lead us to this deeper understanding if we follow it out of obedience at first and then out of our love for God.
Saint Theophan says, “The awakening of the sinner is that act of divine grace in his heart, the consequence of which he, as one awakened from sleep, sees his sinfulness, senses the danger of the situation, begins to fear for Himself and to care about deliverance from his misfortune and salvation….
“The door to conversion may be opened only under the condition that the spiritual way of life be revealed to the sinner’s consciousness in its full light, and not merely revealed, but that it touch the heart.” (Path to Salvation, pp 102 & 103 )