Reflection April 1
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.
Some of the greatest stories in English literature focus on characters who are tormented by the guilt of their sin: the minister in The Scarlet Letter, the king in Hamlet. It makes the characters relatable; it makes them human. Who hasn’t felt that undeniable conscience prick after having done something wrong? But although it makes for a good story, it doesn’t have to be our story. In Psalm 32, God’s plan for our restoration with Him is apparent, and it’s through acknowledging our shortcomings and being willing to turn away from our failures and toward Him. Verse 1 does not say blessed are those who do not transgress. That would be nice, but it’s unrealistic. We are fallen, needy people, and we sin. Verse 1 says blessed are those whose sins are covered. The Psalmist says to Yahweh that his sins are covered when “I acknowledged my sin to you.” When he tries to keep silent, he, much like Arthur Dimmsedale in Hawthorne’s work and Claudius in Shakespeare’s, languishes in guilt and misery.
It’s strange that we try to keep secrets from the King of the Universe, as if He knows how many hairs are on our head but has somehow missed our latest mistake. Why then does God want us to acknowledge our sin if He is already aware? I think He wants us to face our own fallenness and to turn from it. Later in Psalm 51:4, the Psalmist acknowledges that it is only truly against God whom he has sinned. But Dimmesdale and Claudius both continue to suffer extreme guilt even when they try to privately repent. Why? Maybe Hawthorne and Shakespeare just had bad theology. Yet, I think it relates back to the idea of true confession. True confession often can be private – this Psalm suggests this. But it must be motivated by a desire to turn from our sin and to reorient ourselves to God and His will. Dimmesdale and Claudius only try to apologize to God so that they don’t have to walk around with a heavy conscience. It literally eats away at Dimmesdale’s flesh. The Psalmist loses his vigor: “My strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” Unlike the Psalmist, who allows himself to be changed through recognizing and turning from his sin, Dimmesdale and Claudius are unwilling to give up the rewards they have reaped due to their sin.
It’s no way to live. Despite the discomfort our sin causes us, we are blessed when our sins are forgiven, and in order to grow, we must ask to be forgiven. It’s because of this promise that when we sit down with my girls at night to pray, we prompt them to confess their sins. Sometimes I wonder if I am shaming them or bringing up memories we should just put to bed along with the day we are leaving behind. But I know there is blessing to be had. I want my children to grow up knowing the gift of a soul wiped clean. I don’t want them to be overcome with pride, like Claudius when he recognizes the need but lacks the humility to truly repent: “Bow, stubborn knees, and heart with strings of steel.” (Hamlet III.III). My prayer is that we will fall to our knees as a humble people with soft hearts, able to accept the gift God offers to us even amidst our shortcomings.