Blessed is the One Whose Sins Are Forgiven: Psalm 32 (Seven Penitential Psalms)

The Seven Penitential Psalms were chosen because they teach us about confession; yet they do not all teach us in the same way. Our first psalm (Psalm 6) lamented personal suffering and sadness which comes from sin. The tone of Psalm 32 is different. It is not a lament at all. Instead this is a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s forgiveness.  At the end of Psalm 6, the psalmist feels heard and awaits the Lord’s sure deliverance. Here the psalmist sings of a lived reality.  His sorrows were swallowed up by the mercy of God. Here is Psalm:

Psalm 32 (NIV)

Of David. A maskil.

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.

10 Many are the woes of the wicked,

but the Lord’s unfailing love

surrounds the one who trusts in him.

11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;

sing, all you who are upright in heart!

The psalmist is aware of the isolation and loneliness of being a sinner. He remembers how his bones ached and his spirit withered. He knew that he was the recipient of God’s wrath. But then he confessed his sins–did not hold back anything but declared them all. And then he experienced absolution, freedom, total forgiveness and joy. With confidence he exhorts us to shed our obstinance and petty pretense and seek forgiveness from the God of grace.

Have you experienced what the Psalmist describes? There was a time when I felt the weight of my sin and resented God’s goodness (if God weren’t so good, he wouldn’t demand so much would He?). But then I experienced God’s goodness afresh–His Grace abounding to my sin-sick-soul. And in that moment I felt loved by God and the freedom of forgiveness. But I am from a people of unclean lips and I have unclean lips. I don’t do confession well. I bet you don’t either.

I feel like our gut response to sin in our lives is to pretend it isn’t there. Sure we aren’t perfect but we really aren’t that bad either, right? So we excuse our faults and make sure that we do more good than bad. We hide from the ugly parts of ourselves and we hide from one another too. And God. When God and others see us for who we truly are we feel exposed. We are naked and ashamed so we run and hide.

What this Psalm suggests to me is that another way is possible. To the extent that I have bared my soul to God in confession I am able to latch on to the forgiveness He offers through Christ.  It is when confess our sins that we know the freedom of forgiveness.  What we hold back from God, God will not bless. What we give to Him is transformed in His hands. I pray for myself that I would be bold in my confession and honest with myself about where my thoughts, words and deeds hurt the ones I love. In better moments I pray that for you too. Join me in confession and let us experience the freedom of God’s forgiveness together!

Lord Do Not Rebuke Me In Anger: Psalm 6 (Seven Penitential Psalms)


Psalm 6

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. According to sheminith. A psalm of David.

1 LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am faint;
heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony.
3 My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, LORD, how long?

4 Turn, LORD, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.
5 Among the dead no one proclaims your name.
Who praises you from the grave?

6 I am worn out from my groaning.

All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
7 My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes.

8 Away from me, all you who do evil,
for the LORD has heard my weeping.
9 The LORD has heard my cry for mercy;
the LORD accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish;
they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.

 

This is the first of the so-called Penitential Psalms. Psalm 6 is a personal lament Psalm a petition for relief from suffering. Bible commentator Peter Craigie calls it “A Prayer of Sickness.” But is this Penitential Psalm about Sin?  With the exception of the opening verse where the psalmist cries, “Do not rebuke me in your anger/ do not chastise me in your wrath” there is no hint of wrong doing by the author. Instead this psalm lays bare personal anguish. The psalmist is feeble–physically suffering and disturbed in the depths of his soul. He longs for salvation and the lovingkindness (covenant love) of God. And yet the psalmist is overwhelmed with thoughts of death, with sickness, with crying and grief. At the heart of his suffering he feels abandoned by God.

I’ve heard many a preacher say, “If you feel distant from God, guess who moved?” This phrase is to warn us of the dangers of our ever wandering heart. But the writer of Psalm 6 doesn’t feel like he’s moving. If anything, he feels stuck. But he longs for God, for restoration and life.  This psalm gives words to the experience of sadness, grief, sickness, abandonment and physical anguish. This is why Christians through the ages have associated this Psalm with our response to personal sin. Ought we not feel broken and sad when we know what our sin cost God?  This psalm names the appropriate response to our wickedness.

When I think about this I wonder: when the last time I felt anguish for the state of my soul?  I tend to think of myself as not too bad. Sometimes I feel bad about something I’ve said or did but this doesn’t occupy my thoughts for too long. In a consumer culture I always have something at my finger tips which promises relief from personal anxiety. I can escape my problems by reading a good book or watching a bad movie. I can gorge myself on copious amounts of chocolate or with a good glass (bottle) of wine.  I seldom consider the depths of my sin, and if I do, I do not do it very long.   Yet Lent is a time for taking an honest look at yourself. So I am a sinner, but I do not know personal suffering of the magnitude that the Psalmist describes. I have had my share of  hard times and personal anxiety. I long for more joy, peace and contentment in my life.  I have felt grief and a myriad of little aches and pains, but this Psalm invites me deeper: to a place of total brokenness for my sin.

The brokenness of the Psalmist does not end in brokenness. The Lord hears his cries  and the anguishing, “How Long?” I think the lesson in praying this Psalm is that God is the God who hears. You do not need to deny your sorry estate. You do not need to repress personal disappointment and anguish of the soul. You do not need to numb your perceptions with sensual pleasures. When you turn to God with your Sin and suffering, He will bring healing and restoration.

This Psalm is good news for my sin-sick-soul.  When I read it, I ask God to feel more fully the weight of my sins. But I am no masochist. God in Christ has paid for my sins and will restore to life and health the parts of me that are marred by sinfulness. The God who hears will not leave me to suffer but will surround me with His mercy and Grace.

 

Confession is Good for the Soul: an Introduction to the Seven Penitential Psalms

During last year’s Lent, I had a series of posts on the Seven Deadly Sins. Those posts were  a way for me to examine my heart, repent and explore alternative practices. This year I will look at the Seven Penitential Psalms.  These psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 142) were designated the Penitential Psalms in the 7th Century (though four of them were known as such much earlier). because of how suitably they expressed repentance.  In the Middle Ages they were recited after Lauds (Morning Prayer) on Fridays through Lent and were used in Medieval confessions.

These psalms help us pay attention to the way sin feels in us. When I looked at the Seven Deadly Sins, I was exploring how habitual sin affects us.  These reflections are somewhat different. The Psalms name the reality of sin in our lives and express sorrow for it. They also talk about what sin does to our heart, our minds, our bodies and our soul. So I invite you to read these Psalms along with me and trust that through Christ Jesus the grace of God extends to our sin-sick-souls.

The Penitentials  are an invitation to be clean, to be whole, and fully restored. When I compose my reflections on each of these Psalms I will not ask you to do anything. Instead I want to hold out the mercy of God. The Psalms utter our longings for wholeness and freedom. They also instruct us in way of freedom.

But I want to be honest with you. Confession is good for the soul but it is also hard. It is much easier to ignore your sin, shrug it off as no big deal than to take a long hard look at the way Sin stains our best efforts. I am a sinner but a poor penitent.  Absolution comes to those who confess but first we have to take a hard look at ourselves.   I do not know where these reflections will take me (us?) but I hope we will have the courage to repent and turn our hearts to God.