"Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good." (Psalm 25:7 NIV)
I've had the privilege of coaching the local Middle School wrestling team this season and we've been having a pretty good year so far. In fact, in our part of the county, we are definitely among the very best teams. But on this past Saturday we hit a bit of a speed bump. We had a wrestling meet against a team from a different part of the county and, well, we got totally thwomped! The final score was 118-17 (yes, you read that right). It was brutal. But we had a good talk with the team afterward and we challenged them to grow from their hardship, to get better from it and, most of all, not to allow it to define their season. It's especially important at the middle school level not to get too consumed by a loss. After all, they're still learning and confidence is as important as anything. If they allow loss to define them, it can be difficult to re-learn how to win.
Not to milk too cheesy an analogy, but I think that people operate in a similar way. We can define ourselves by our failures, and those of us who are in touch with our brokenness will not have trouble saying amen to the fact that we've got a lot of material to work with. We can identify ourselves primarily as failures, as sinners, as unworthy and inadequate even in the sight of God. This identity has direct implications for how we see and understand God. By allowing ourselves to be defined by inadequacy we are, overtly or implicitly, identifying God as our critic, our judge. After all, if God's opinion is primary to us, then our self reflection will imply our understanding of how God sees us. We see ourselves the way we think God sees us.
The other option is to be defined by something else and thus make different implications about how we are seen by God. I think that's what the Psalmist is reminding himself of here in Psalm 25. The other option here is to be defined by love. God does not define us according to our wins and losses but simply by God's own love for us. Indeed, it goes back to the origins of creation when God formed humankind in God's very own image. As such, we are not failures. Our belovedness is the truth about us and thus we are empowered the be people of victory... a specific kind of victory ironically embodied in the crucified Christ.
Perhaps this is why Paul so often initiates a commission to righteousness with a reminder of our choseness and our belovedness. For example, right before Paul calls the church in Colossae to the difficult life of compassion and kindness--forgiving one another, bearing with each other, worshiping with and teaching one another--he says "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved..." (see Colossians 3:12-17).
The truth is, God never forgot who we really are. God does remember us according to God's love for us because God is good. God is offended when we constantly identify ourselves as unworthy and inadequate because that's not how God sees us and that's not who God created us to be. God's love and forgiveness empowers us to be people who are clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. We are not just sinners. We are God's beloved! We are holy and dearly loved.