I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:5b
Forgiveness is one of the best things Christianity has going for it — the opportunity to have our slate wiped clean and to begin again, guilt-free. We can think of forgiveness in two ways. Consider a case where we have been wronged, but the other person will not acknowledge it. Here, it is best to eventually forgive, but what we really mean is, “Let it go.” “I offer this up to God.” It does us great harm to hold this anger and frustration inside. For the sake of our mental and spiritual health, we must give it up.
A related concept: We might then offer that “letting go” to the other person — “I will hold this against you no longer.” It’s a gift we freely give — hoping perhaps for a softening of the heart, but ultimately expecting nothing. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Here in Psalm 32, however, the prayer is about the whole grand and challenging cycle of formal repentance and forgiveness: I acknowledged my sin to you, says the psalmist, and confessed my transgressions to the Lord. “We confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”
And then we atone, we pledge to make amends, we “intend to lead a new life.” We must go through this. We must plead for God’s mercy. Anything less is, as theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it, “cheap grace.”
But there is good news at the end, and it is an awesome thing: “I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of your sins.” And we can say with the psalmist, “Sing, all you who are upright in heart.”
Lord, teach us how to forgive — and how to be forgiven. Amen.