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Lenten Reflections: Psalm 32

By Steve Lammers

Two years after becoming a Christian, I felt like a complete failure.  I just wasn’t as good a person as I’d hoped to be by that point.  So I went into my pastor’s office and unloaded all my sins and failures.  Everything I could think of.  Honestly, I expected him to stop me early on in my list to say “cheer up, you’re not as bad as you think.”   Instead, he grinned mysteriously and said “Steve, cheer up, you’re worse than you think!”

I wanted to say “thanks for nothing Yoda”!  But instead I asked what he meant, and he opened up Psalm 32 to explain his enigmatic phrase.  He pointed out that the beginning of the Psalm says “blessed (cheerful!) is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity….”  Then he pointed out that the end of the Psalm describes the same thing:  That those who try to cover up their own sin have many sorrows, but those who trust in God’s sin-covering can “be glad in the Lord, and rejoice.”
In other words, we can cheer up; because the more we recognize our sin and turn to Jesus, the more we perceive the wonder of his forgiveness.

And the middle of Psalm 32 makes that even clearer.  In verse 5, David reemphasizes the evil in his heart with those same three words he used earlier:  Sin, iniquity, and transgression. “I acknowledged my sin to you and I did not cover my iniquity; I said ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”  David accumulates words to communicate that he’s guilty not only of overstepping a known boundary or missing the mark of God’s perfection, but also of what modern theologians call original sin.  It’s as if David’s saying, “I’m not just bad because of what I DO; I’m bad because of who I AM.  I was born with evil in my heart that I don’t even know about yet!”

So David describes two options to deal with all this evil:  We can either try to cover our own sin (and fail miserably), or we can ask God to cover it and rejoice when he does.  But we can’t do both.  We can’t bargain: “if you forgive me, I swear I won’t do it again.”  That’s the same as saying “I’ll give you my righteousness in exchange for your forgiveness.”  But praise God he doesn’t bargain that way!  God doesn’t say “give me your righteousness in exchange for my forgiveness.”  He says “give me your sin in exchange for my forgiveness – and I’ll credit you as if you’re perfect!”

This is the apostle Paul’s point in 2 Corinthians 5:21:  “God made (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Do you see the cheerful exchange!?  God didn’t take our bad and weigh it against our good to see if we should be forgiven.  He took all of our bad (the transgression, sin, and iniquity), and placed it on Jesus.  He didn’t sweep it under the rug only to bring it out when we fail. He banished it forever on the cross.  And he credited those who turn to Jesus with the perfect life Jesus lived on our behalf.

In other words, “cheer up, you’re worse than you think” – but, by faith in Christ more forgiven than you think!