Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
Psalm 32 celebrates grace.
Remember the poetic rhythm that often characterizes the Psalms: a lovely coupling where two lines emphasize one another, both saying the same thing in different ways.
Here “forgiven” complements “covered” and “no iniquity” aligns with “no deceit.” These are the people who find “happiness” or blessedness or contentment in life.
But Psalm 32 also remembers sin.
We don’t like to talk much about sin these days but the reality of human sinfulness can’t be ignored. Sin presents us with a huge social, psychological and spiritual dilemma because we mostly don’t live up to our own ideals, much less what God desires for us.
Our psalmist captures this condition of “iniquity” and “deceit” with powerful imagery:
While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
Our modern day notion of “psycho – somatic” is a reality humans have been experiencing for eons. Our emotional and psychic self is deeply intertwined with our physical body, our soma. These various aspects of our human nature intersect and interact with each other in ways we often can’t understand.
But “confession is good for the soul,” they say. And our psalmist would agree.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
In the Book of Common Prayer, we confess …
that we have sinned against Thee in thought, word and deed
by what we have done and what we have left undone.
We have not loved Thee with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves…
There is an unburdening of body and soul when we are able to achieve such honesty with ourselves and with another. There is a lightening of the spirit and a refreshment we can notice in our nerves, muscles and blood pressure.
This is the grace: this openness and transparency where there are no secrets from the One who “knit us together in our mother’s womb and knows our inmost being.” The God of Grace knows us better than we know ourselves and offers us the grace of being totally and completely known.
The psalmist has been enlightened because of this experience and now, out of his own journey of sin and redemption, he seeks to shine a light on the way for others who may struggle.
I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
It is often the stories of redeemed sinners who inspire us most deeply, so sharing even our embarrassing or humiliating stories with those who journey with us is a bold grace we can offer. (Think of the powerful ministry of Alcoholics Anonymous.)
So do not be like a mule, without understanding.
The apostle Paul quoted Psalm 32 in his treatise to the church at Rome.
David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.”
“Righteousness” in this biblical understanding – both of the psalmist and of the apostle – does not mean sinless-ness but rather forgiven-ness. The righteous one is she who has been “made right” by the grace of God. Those who trust in the Lord are not perfect, sinless people. We have not arrived but we are on the journey.
God’s people, the righteous ones, are those who (over and over and over again!) put our trust in the grace, goodness and forgiveness of the God of Grace who knows us completely and loves us anyway.