BY REV. CORY L. KEMP |
One of my long-term clients and I are working with the theological understandings of orientation, disorientation and new orientation in our relationship with God. We’ve been reading Walter Brueggemann’s work on selected psalms that express Jewish precepts that inform our own Christian faith, including Psalm 32, which follows.
“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.
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. 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.
Therefore, let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.
I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.
Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.”
Whether you’ve heard or read this psalm recently, it’s probably familiar to you, as well as the awareness of what it means to recognize when you have sinned, to come before God in prayerful confession, to ask for and receive forgiveness. You may even be feeling that way right now, sensing your step out of orientation with God into a disorientation that is uncomfortable, and you want to be back on good terms with God. If so, you know it is your responsibility to do what you know to do.
But do you really believe you are forgiven? If you do, you are among the happy, the ones who experience the release of a burden lifted from you, large or small, and the opportunity to start fresh, to go and sin no more. But you also know that you will sin again. And you will be forgiven again when you bring your confession to God and welcome God’s response.
In his commentary, Brueggemann refers to those who are happily freed of burdensome sins as “the lucky ones.” While we don’t talk about luck much in the church, a secular term like this one, thrown in at this most sacred intersection of human vulnerability and Divine power, is a good reality check. If you have worried about having said or done something, sinned in word or deed, and been forgiven by another person, my guess is that you probably did feel pretty lucky. However, the thing about luck is that it is random, and it doesn’t carry the relational power of consistent, steadfast communication that undergirds a developing, lasting faith in our God.
What I suspect Brueggemann was nudging his readers toward was a simple point: You are happier when you believe and trust that, as God would have it, you don’t worry about grudges being held against you by the Almighty. Worry like that can eat away at your mind, your heart, your body and your soul. It is as much God’s privilege as ours to bring those moments of deepest shame and humiliation to light. You and I are much more able to serve God freely, joyfully, when we are not weighed down by blame and guilt.
Something else I learned is that, even though we feel the brunt of our sinful words and actions within the human community, it is important to remember that sin, at its core, is an affront to God. I think we forget that. It is important to remember that all of our living, moving and being is in God. Confessing our sins to and forgiving each other matters. Remembering to do the same with God matters too. The happy ones, the lucky ones, know the freedom of sin forgiven, not because they assume they won’t do anything else wrong, but because they know they will.
About the Author
The Rev. Cory L. Kemp is founder and faith mentor with Broad Plains Faith Coaching. Cory, employing her signature Handcrafted Faith program, supports ordained and lay women leaders in visualizing, understanding and strengthening their beliefs, so that they may know, love and serve God and their communities with generosity, wisdom, and joy.