“But why?” Those were some of my favorite words as a kid and teen. Why are things the way they are? I was a curious kid and I asked the “why” question often. Most of the time, my parents and church family were kind enough to indulge my sometimes incessant questioning.
As we come to Psalm 32, we find ourselves right in the middle of Lent. For a few weeks now, we have been focusing on themes of confession and repentance, introspection and spiritual renewal. As we might expect, Psalm 32 is a penitential psalm of confession and repentance. At the same time, Psalm 32 gets a little meta and answers the question “But why?” Why is confession important? And why take a whole season of the church year to focus on these themes?
The psalmist, traditionally understood to be David, gives his testimony of confession and forgiveness. In the midst of giving his testimony, David shows us the value of confession and repentance. This might be an especially good focus if your congregation is new to Lenten practices or if you want to bring a renewed understanding of the reasons behind the Season of Lent.
The psalm begins with the psalmist noting the contrast in his own life before confession and after. The one who confesses and receives forgiveness is happy. In the season of Lent, we take an honest look at ourselves and confess what needs to be confess. As the psalmist says, “there is no deceit” in our spirits when we are willing to take an honest assessment of ourselves.
On the other hand, silence in the face of known sin brings a heaviness to one’s spirit. When one has done evil, it can feel as though the life has been sucked out of your existence. There are at least two elements to this. First, there is the guilt that comes with unconfessed sin. The weight of sin in one’s life, the fear of being found out and the ongoing need to hide all contribute the guilt and heaviness that comes with unconfessed sin.
Second, there is the heaviness that comes with the natural consequences of sin. Sin leads to pain and broken relationships. Ongoing unconfessed sin exacerbates the natural consequences of sin. Both guilt and the consequences of sin lead to heaviness, a lifeless existence, a life without any strength or power behind it.
“I used to be there”, the psalmist seems to say, “but then I confessed my sin.” In verse 5 the psalmist speaks of getting honest with God. Perhaps we fear honesty with God. Maybe we are tempted to think confession is weakness. The Psalmist tells us that it is just the opposite. Confession is where we receive forgiveness. With honest confession comes true happiness and blessedness.
After giving his testimony, David compels all of us to cry out to God. May all those who are faithful offer prayers to God, who is our hiding place. As we confess our sin, the very One who we thought might condemn us actually forgives us. God, who we fear might hate us due to our sin, becomes our hiding place in the time of distress. Even in the midst of our sin, when we bring it to God, God will surround us with cries of deliverance.
In verses 8-9, the speaker changes from the psalmist to God. God assures us that when we confess our sin, God will instruct and guide us. We don’t have to guess at the way we should live. We don’t have to use trial and error. God will guide us. We can live in such a way that God guides us into a healthy lifestyle.
God contrasts this new way of life listening to the guidance of God with a horse who needs a bit and bridle to settle its temper. “Let me instruct you,” God seems to be saying, “and you will walk in real freedom.” It’s hard to hear these words and not think of sanctification. Perhaps God is saying something along the lines of “Not only can you receive forgiveness, but you can actually live in light of my instruction.” One is reminded of Jeremiah’s words about God writing the law on the hearts of God’s people and replacing their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. Forgiveness is good; the ability to live in light of the instruction of God is even better.
Here in Psalm 32, we have a psalm about forgiveness, yes, but we have a psalm about so much more than that. In one sense, it is a psalm that demonstrates the whole life of a believer: confession, remission of guilt and living in light of God’s instruction. This season of Lent, may Psalm 32 compel us to not only confess and seek forgiveness, but also to live in light of the love of God.