Psalm 32: Confession

Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord does not count against them
    and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
    while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
    will not reach them.
You are my hiding place;
    you will protect me from trouble
    and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
    which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
    or they will not come to you.
Many are the woes of the wicked,
    but the Lord’s unfailing love
    surrounds the one who trusts in him.

Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
    sing, all you who are upright in heart!

– Psalm 32

One of the key motifs of the previous Psalm is shame, the public expression of where we have fallen short. This Psalm has a slightly different angle on the whole business of our failure to be the people God created and desires us to be. The Bible is very clear that we all fall short of God’s standards by what we do, by what we say, by what we fail to do and by what we fail to say (1 Kings 8:46, Romans 3:23).

God is not disillusioned by that failure because God never has any illusions about us in the first place. God knows us inside and out and remarkably, shockingly, still loves us unconditionally, no strings attached. We, however, often try to cover up and excuse our wrongdoing. There’s nothing new in that – it’s an old, old story (Genesis 3:10). The result is never good.

Verses 3–4 clearly outline what can happen when we push the guilt and shame down into the deepest recesses of our psyche. Three millennia before Freud, the Psalmist understood that the refusal to own and acknowledge our wrongdoing can take a heavy toll. We are not an ethereal soul trapped in a gross physical body but psychosomatic unities. We can attempt to deceive others and ourselves about our wrongdoing, to cover up, to rationalise, to justify but there is a price to pay. It can come in the symptoms mentioned here – in the form of weight loss, discomfort, restlessness and physical weakness.

Running from reality never ends well but, in verse 5, David speaks of the release that comes with acknowledging the reality of his own sinfulness. Confession really is good for the soul. Jesus said that the truth will set us free and the truth is not that we are sinless but that we are forgiven. John writes, ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ (1 John 1:8, 9).

The great French philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote, ‘Jesus Christ is a God whom we approach without pride, and before whom we humble ourselves without despair.’

The good news is that the liberation and release that David experienced is available to everyone, to you and to me. Acknowledging our sin and guilt allows us to move on from being stuck in a rut, from being tired and unfulfilled, lacking energy and lacking joy.

Guilt can be massively destructive when repressed or denied but when owned it can lead to a new lease of life, new communion with a forgiving God and a fresh experience of his grace.  We are often stubborn as the mule (verse 9) in our insistence that we never did anything wrong in the first place, we make all sorts of excuses. However, the opening and final verses of the Psalm confirm David’s experience is that it is not in denial but in being honest with ourselves and with God that we find liberation, joy and peace.