Psalm 32 devotion – A song for secret guilt
By Kat Cowell
Main Bible passage Psalm 32
Extra Passages: Psalm 103; 1 John 1:5-2:2
For most of my life I’ve tended to be a “rule-keeping” sort of person. I think this was in part because I have always had a tender conscience, a conscience that could be easily pricked by guilt, and I just didn’t like that feeling. However, I do remember one particular instance from my childhood where I was in the wrong about something and tried to cover it up. I had attended a sleepover birthday party with some friends, and after much fun and frivolity and very little sleep, our attention turned to making prank calls. We would leave fake messages on other people’s answering machines and pretend to order pizza that we never intended to pay for or eat. As 10- year old’s, we thought ourselves pretty clever, all the while not realising that our prank calls could be traced to the phone line we were ringing from, thus exposing our identities to those we were calling.
To cut a long story short, in time all of our parents found out what we were doing and the next day the issue was brought up. I remember denying that we had made the calls, denying I was involved, denying I had done anything wrong, until my parents explained that they knew it was us because the calls had been traced and our voices identified. I remember feeling incredibly embarrassed and sad, not only because the punishment involved missing out on a trip to the movies with my grandparents, but because I had hidden the truth and been found out. But I also remember feeling relief once my parents found out, and wishing I had just owned up to my wrongdoing in the first place and accepted the consequences.
Our society has a funny relationship with the notion of guilt. Generally speaking, it is treated as a bad thing, as something to be ignored or avoided. As Tim Keller says, “many insist that guilt is an imposition of society or religion, that people can define right and wrong for themselves. Nonetheless we have a sense of condemnation, of not being as we ought, that we can’t shake.” I think this resonates with our experience of life. Sure, there might be times when we feel guilty without needing to, like eating that extra piece of cake for example, which while possibly making us feel bad, is not actually morally wrong. But what about the times when we feel guilty because we are guilty? Or the times when we are guilty but don’t feel it? What is the remedy then?</p >
In Psalm 32, we see David wrestling with these ideas as he recounts an experience of withholding his sin from God. Listen to how he describes it: “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.” (Ps. 32:3-4).
The act of keeping silent before God, of holding onto unconfessed sin, has an impact on David’s whole being and he knows it. He lives in anguish, both in body and mind, knowing that he isn’t being honest with God or himself. I wonder what our society would say to David in this situation. Perhaps something along the lines of: “it’s not that bad” or “don’t beat yourself up” or “you’re not to blame.” I’m sure we’ve heard those lines before, and while they might be true or appropriate in certain contexts, can we really use them before God? After all, the consistent message of the Bible is that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
So what does David do instead? Verse 5 says: “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.” David knows that what he needs most in that moment is not a pep talk or distraction, but to be honest before God and to receive His forgiveness, which is promised to all who repent and turn to Him. This is why David begins the psalm by speaking of the “blessed ones” not as those who are perfect and law-abiding, but as those who know they are sinners, who acknowledge this before God, and who are recipients of His mercy.
Tim Keller writes that “the liberation of forgiveness begins with honesty“, and I’m sure we all feel the challenge of those words. It can be hard to admit our faults to ourselves, let alone to God, but why? At times it may be out of fear or uncertainty, but perhaps more often than not it is the result of stubbornness or even apathy. We can so easily be like “the horse or the mule, which have no understanding”, needing to be controlled by bit and bridle or we will not budge (Ps. 32:9). We can be those who dig our heels in before God, refusing to admit what we know is true until we’re absolutely forced to. But David warns us not to be like this, and to instead be like the faithful who pray to the Lord while He may be found, and who seek the forgiveness that only He can provide – the forgiveness that has been purchased for us by the blood of Jesus Christ, who died in our place.
The wonderful news of the gospel is that God will not withhold His forgiveness from any who ask Him. We can have complete confidence that as we approach Him in confession of our sin, we will be met with His mercy. As Psalm 103:8-12 says: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; he does not treat us our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed his transgressions from us.” Praise be to our gracious and merciful God!
Quotations from Timothy Keller, My Rock; My Refuge: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms (Hodder & Stoughton, London: 2015), page 59.
A prayer for today:
Thank you for the promise of your word, that if we confess our sins, you are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness, and that we have an advocate with You – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. Please give me the courage and honesty to acknowledge my sin before you, and the assurance and peace of knowing I am completely and freely forgiven through Jesus.