“While I kept silence,” says the writer of Psalm 32, “my body wasted away through my groaning all day long” (v. 3). But “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” (v. 5).
These two verses from an ancient song capture a spiritual and psychological truth that is still valid two-and-a-half thousand years later. The burden of unconfessed wrongdoing can become overwhelming, and it can have physiological as well as spiritual consequences. The psalmist’s body wasted away and her strength “was dried up as by the heat of summer” (v. 4). Other people develop ulcers or hypertension or chronic back pain. Unresolved guilt can lead to or exacerbate anxiety or depression. One can begin to feel cognitive dissonance from trying to put on a brave face and act as if nothing is wrong while inside one is falling apart. Guilt can also morph into shame, which brings its own set of existential baggage and can be harder to get rid of than an unwelcome houseguest. The strain of hiding one’s sin from other people, from oneself, and—as though it were possible—from God can be crippling for one’s body, mind, and soul.
The cure for this malady is a simple one: confession: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you … and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” The “you” in this sentence is, of course, God, and the “I” is the psalmist who stands in for each and every one of us. I would hazard that all of us have found ourselves in this predicament before, and that at least some of us have discovered the liberation that comes from a sense of being forgiven. It feels as if a weight has been lifted from our shoulders. We can breathe again. We can smile. We don’t have to pretend anymore, but can be ourselves. We can experience reconciliation.
It is we, after all, who derive the benefits of confession. It is we who are reconciled to God, not the other way around. When it comes to our sin, God is so over it. Other parts of the Bible talk about God casting our sins into the sea or separating them from us as far as the east is from the west. Isaiah 65:24 says of God, “Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.” We do not worship a capricious God who forgives us only begrudgingly after arduous penance or self-flagellation or blood sacrifice. Rather, we have a God who leans forward on the edge of God’s chair, waiting for us to make the smallest move to return to God. Verse 5 of the psalm seems to
indicate that the acknowledgement and confession preceded the forgiveness, but I don’t think that’s accurate. God is not waiting for us to make that move so that God can offer pardon; God is eagerly waiting for us to acknowledge the sin so that God can remove the burden we have placed on our own shoulders and erase the shame we have inflicted on ourselves. God does not need to be reconciled to us, for God has never stopped loving us and wanting our best. We need to acknowledge our wrongdoing so that we can have access to the forgiveness and restoration that have been there all along.
Do you have any unacknowledged sin that is creating problems in your mind, body, and spirit? You need to come clean—for your own benefit, not because God will zap you if you don’t. God desires your freedom, your joy, your full flourishing. Reconciliation is waiting for you; all you have to do is reach an uncertain and faltering hand in that direction. God will do the rest.
Grace and peace,
P.S. Three friendly reminders: 1) Don’t forget to invite someone to church with you on Kickoff Sunday, September 10. 2) Bring some kind of “tailgate” food to accompany the hot dogs and hamburgers Consistory will provide for our after-church fellowship. 3) Remember that Adult Studies will also resume the morning of the 10th—9am in the church library.