Reflection: Psalm 32
King David, never a moralist at heart, wrote this penitential Psalm from his profound personal experiences with his God. Given the depth of wisdom and gratitude this Song portrays, it was also Augustine’s favourite – bringing much comfort to him on his deathbed, and his dictum for it: “the beginning of knowledge is to know oneself to be a sinner.” The Psalm sets out the need for a self-realization of one’s sins, confessing them to God and receiving His forgiveness, trusting and obeying Him, and it concludes with an expansive thanksgiving.
The first two verses provide a summary of the blessedness of forgiveness. David is confident that when God has forgiven a person for his rebellious acts against Him, offences diverting from the true path, or disrespect for His will, he will be intensely contented and happy. But the supplementary reason is intriguing. Not only is the sin pardoned to the extent that God no longer counts his sins against him, it is also ‘covered;’ being concealed or hidden. Why is there a necessity for a cover-up? Our identity is invariably wrapped up with who we are in others’ estimation, inclusive of God, and there is an ingrained reaction to uphold our personhood under threat of being exposed and dehumanized; which is part and parcel of our attempts at self-preservation as a result of the Fall. What David was implying is that we all fall short of any standards established for good behavior, be they our own or Divine criterions, but our guilt and shame over sin drive us to hide behind a propped-up persona even when we have been forgiven. God will cover our shame, as nothing is hidden from Him. Did David catch a sense of 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Romans 8:1, where “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him, so there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus?” It does not say that he will feel no shame over his misdemeanors.
It appears that the unrepentant spirit engenders, in David’s descriptions, psychosomatic glitches (vv. 3-4); although we are aware that in some protracted damaging life circumstances, physiological and psychological issues may surface. But God will nevertheless draw near to proffer Himself as a solution to his self-induced torture and distancing from his Lord. The choice remains with David as he struggles with being honest with himself; shall he continue to bear his sinful burden or to confess them. Matthew 11:29-30 comes to mind. A prerequisite to confession is not limited to sensitivity towards the infringement of the governing life principles of man and God, but also an accelerated sense of impending Divine judgment. Accordingly, a conscience that is not scorched beyond that intuiting, speaks of a heart already attuned to the awful grievousness of sin to God (vv.3-5).
In this second half of the Psalm, David’s advice at a time of tension, with the burden of sin, is to pray while the opportunity remains (v.6), so that God becomes not only his hiding place from shame but also his protector and deliverer. The horse and mule analogy (vv.8-10a) is a neat depiction of human character, despite being instructed, taught, and counseled by the Almighty Himself. ‘With My eye upon you’ suggests God’s vigilance and intimate care on our behalf. But the immediate reference here is to the earlier verses of not admitting his sins (3-4), and therefore not coming near to God (v.9b). He then contrasts that with the benefit of trusting God and maintaining spiritual health (viz., having a teachable spirit), and thereby being constantly aware of His unfailing love surrounding him, with much gladness and rejoicing (vv.10-11).
It seems that when one prefers the Lord and relentlessly seeks Him out in the midst of confounding or sinful concerns, it sets up a circular cause-and-effect dynamics that draws us into closer interaction with our Creator. As this love relationship grows (James 4:8), our abhorrence for sinning ought to be a natural outcome, as sons and daughters grieving Him will become repulsive. An uprightness in heart (v.11) certainly does not mean that sinning has been completely done away in a person’s life (not this side of heaven), but it is an interior attitude arising from an ongoing obedience to God that eschews sinning. David understood this transformational change, though he is fully aware of his own imperfections for the rest of his life.