Sufjan Stevens’s wrote a haunting song about serial killer John Wayne Gacy, Jr, who between 1972 and 1978 murdered thirty-three young men in the suburbs of Chicago. In the song named after Gacy, he sings, “Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.” Stevens’ song chronicles the nationally mourned tragedy that was the Gacy killing spree. At least thirty-three killed, hundreds of families’ lives destroyed, thousands upon thousands impacted and shattered.
As the song progresses you can’t help but participate in a sense of shared suffering, and ultimately, deep anger towards Gacy. Yet it is at that very moment that Stevens turns the tables, inviting us to peek beneath the floorboards of his own life. You see, Stevens knows he has secrets too—secrets that would harm and bring pain if exposed. What Stevens sees is that there is a capacity for great evil buried in every human heart, including his own. It is not what wholly defines us, but it is there nonetheless.
Prior to writing Psalm 51, King David had committed an unspeakable evil. He abused his God-given station and power. He slept with a married woman, Bathsheba, and used his influence to have her husband Uriah, who was also his own military leader, murdered.
Psalm 51 is David’s cry to God on the heels of some of his worst thoughts and actions. By all counts, he had strayed far away from God.
It’s easy to see the depravity and evil woven into the lives of Gacy and David. After all, their worst and most deplorable moments have been laid bare on the page for all to see. Sometimes it’s harder to come face to face with the sin lurking in the corners of our own hearts and lives. But we must take a moment to consider: What exactly have we hidden beneath our own floorboards?
What is that thing that you’ve hidden that you hope no one will ever discover? Maybe it’s an addiction—something you thought you could control but is now controlling you. Maybe it’s a relationship with someone you thought would make your life better but who you now know is leading you further away from life and wholeness. Maybe you feel as if you’re leading a double life—what started out as one small sin is now eating away at your hope from the inside.
What we see in Psalm 51 is that no matter the depths of our wandering, no matter how much pain we’ve wrought in our own life and in the lives of those we love, there is a way back. Actually, something better than a way back—a way forward and upward. A way that stretches into resurrection and eternity.
Whatever that unspeakable thing, now is the time to speak it before God. David cries out, “God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (v.10). We are invited to do the same.
There is a new heart waiting for you. That is God’s beautiful redemption at work in our shattered world. If you approach His throne with a “broken and humble heart,” you will find the kind of hope and restoration many have never thought possible (v.17). David gives us some of the language. Jesus gives us His life.
Look beneath the floorboards. Bring the dark things to light. Through prayer and petition, which hinge on the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, God will give you a clean heart—He delights in doing so.