Psalm 51, Day 3 – The Chord Progression of Depression Sessions, with Apologies to Chris Merritt

Triad Study Psalm 51 Bible with Theo Orange Dark Chocolate

Today’s Chocolate: Theo Orange Dark Chocolate

Today’s Passage: Psalm 51

I started Chocolate Book to bring some regularity to my Bible reading. I mean, sure, it was an excuse to eat chocolate, but it wasn’t just an excuse to eat chocolate. I did it to get myself reading the Bible every weekday. And today I read Psalm 51, I did the important part, I accomplished my aim for the day. Now I can say anything about it. My thoughts don’t even have to be coherent.

And I usually do the exegesis thing here. I take a verse, dissect it, dig out the ramifications and significance and talk about what’s up with this word or that word. But right now, even if I later get into the details, I want to at least start with a broad brush. This psalm at its core is a prayer to be cleansed from sin: to be pardoned from its most dire consequences and to be scrubbed free of its contamination, to be restored to the fellowship with God that it inhibits. And David’s entreaties to God here, both in tone and content, remind me of several songs from Twenty One Pilots’ album Blurryface. In particular, “Heavydirtysoul,” “The Judge,” “Doubt,” “Polarize,” and “Goner” are the prayers of someone who knows there’s something deeply wrong with him that he himself can’t fix. He needs God to set him straight, set him free, help him polarize, save his heavy, dirty soul. So, like David, he throws himself on God’s mercy and hopes for pardon and restoration.

You know me, I make my music references, but they seem particularly apropos when we’re talking about a psalm. After all, the psalms were originally set to music, and modern translations continue to inspire new songs and arrangements based on the texts. One song we’d sing in junior high youth group, based on verses 10-12, quoted lines verbatim from the psalm: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (10). Admitting your faults and turning away from your own evil is hard, no question. I’d even say that without reliance on God it’s ultimately impossible. But aesthetically appealing music that captures the reality of that experience can ease the process of repentance. To yank a line from Ingrid Michaelson entirely out of context, let’s not make it harder than it has to be.

The psalms are also poetry, and Psalm 51 reminds me of a poem my brother wrote during his freshman year of college. Titled “You Know, God, This Gutter Looks Awfully Familiar,” it reads:

You know, God,
This gutter
Looks awfully familiar.

You may be able to relate. King David may have been able to relate–not on the adultery point, as we don’t really have reason to believe that happened more than once, but with the experience of having his sin come between him and God.

But at the end of the day, here’s the thing: if you’re repenting, you’ve got to come out of the gutter sometime. You go from prostrate to standing, you get up off your face and get back to it. Toward the end of the psalm, the lights start coming on. For example, David writes: “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You” (12-13). And you see that “then?” It’s supplied by the translator. It’s not technically in the original Hebrew. David’s just stating a fact: he’s expecting restoration, he’s going to teach other people what he’s learned, and like prodigal sons long before Jesus ever told the parable, sinners are going to come back to God. Similarly, when he says, “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.” (14), that’s not an if-then conditional in the Hebrew. It’s an imperative followed by a declarative statement. David’s going to sing about God’s righteousness.

God convicts you. You repent. The chord progression changes up, and yes, there may still be some seventh chords, maybe some diminished or even augmented, but at some point you realize: we’re back in a major key again. Time to take off the sackcloth and sing something new.

…Well, then. That wasn’t so hard.

4 thoughts on “Psalm 51, Day 3 – The Chord Progression of Depression Sessions, with Apologies to Chris Merritt

  1. Thank you for finding the video, Create in Me a Clean Heart, Oh God. I grew up with this version in my small-town, South Presbyterian church.


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