Have you ever felt that God is hiding his face from you? That he is bitterly disappointed with you and therefore withdrawing his presence from you? What was he cause of that feeling? More likely than not, you felt like that because you were guilty of some sin. We are trained to think that our sin invites God’s displeasure. While there is some truth to that, Psalm 38 paints a slightly more nuanced picture.
David opens this psalm with a plea to the Lord to not be angry with him. He recognises that that his “iniquities” are the cause of much personal grief and divine indignation (v. 4). He recognises a wide array of consequences for his sin in vv. 5–14. These consequences brought him to the end of his tether. He was “ready to fall” and his “pain” was “ever before him” (v. 17). All sense of God’s blessing had escaped him. His response is instructive.
We may be tempted to think that the way to secure a sense of restored blessing is to correct our sinful behaviour. If sin invites displeasure, righteousness is surely the key to divine pleasure. David takes a slightly different approach: “I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin” (v. 18). He realised that there was more to blessing than right behaviour. There is no doubt that God delights in right behaviour, and many of David’s psalms make that clear. But he recognised that God required more than mere morality. God wanted confession. He wanted honesty about sin.
There are other places in Scripture where this truth is highlighted. Consider, for example, Proverbs 28:13: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Here, it is not the person who sins who will not prosper but the person who conceals his sin. The writer’s emphasis is on honesty and transparency rather than mere morality. The apostle John echoed this thought: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9). We do not earn God’s favour and blessing simply by correcting wrong behaviour. He forgives those who are honest about their sin and confess it.
In John 9, Jesus healed a man blind from birth. The Pharisees were angry because he had performed this act of compassion on the Sabbath. Their manmade laws prevented anyone from doing even good works on the Sabbath and their own rules had become so blurred in their minds with God’s law that they were certain that Jesus had disobeyed the Sabbath command.
There is a stark contrast in this chapter between the formerly blind man and the Pharisees. Though he was grateful for healing, the formerly blind man was still spiritually blind to Jesus’ true identity. He was not certain whether Jesus was a sinner or not (v. 25). The Pharisees, on the other hand, had no excuse. They were the teachers of the law. They knew that Jesus was fulfilling every prophecy made of Messiah, yet they still rejected him.
A little later, Jesus met the formerly blind man with the Pharisees nearby. He pointedly drew a distinction between him and the Pharisees: “For judgement I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (v. 39). The Pharisees realised that Jesus was talking about them and sarcastically asked, “Are we also blind?” (v. 40). Jesus’ answer was pointed: “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (v. 41).
In truth, the Pharisees were blind. Their problem was that they would not admit it. And because they would not admit it, they had no hope of healing. They could not be forgiven if they would not confess their sin.
We should learn from this psalm and these other texts the need for transparency and confession. We can try to live as morally upright as we like, but until we recognise and confess our sin, we will not know of God’s blessing. But when we recognise and confess our sin, we can pray with David, “Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!” (v. 22).
Let’s be committed to acknowledging our sins and coming to Jesus Christ, in confession, for cleansing.