The dictionary defines the word “question” as “a sentence worded or expressed in such a way as to elicit information.” That is a fairly standard definition of the term. We typically ask questions when seeking information or trying to understand something.
But questions can have other motives. The first recorded question in the Bible (“Did God actually say …?” [Genesis 3:1]) was not about ascertaining information but about putting doubt into Eve’s mind regarding God’s goodness. Questions can sometimes have far more nefarious purposes than simply gathering information.
God’s first question likewise had a motive other than gathering information. When God called to Adam, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9) he did not lack that information. Instead, he was giving Adam opportunity to confess and thereby enter into renewed relationship with him. God’s question was about intimacy, not information.
This is helpful for us to remember because, when it comes to confessing sin, we need to avoid the error of thinking that we confess in order to inform God of something he otherwise would not know. If you’ve ever wondered why it is necessary to confess your sin when God knows everything you’ve done anyway, remember that confession is about intimacy, not information. Confession is for our benefit, not God’s.
Psalm 32 is a psalm of confession. Though it does not specify the sin that was confessed, most interpreters assume that David wrote it after his sin with Bathsheba. He had sinned grievously against God and Nathan the prophet had confronted him. He had been humbled and had come to repentance. He wrote Psalm 51 in response to his repentance and likely wrote this psalm as a similar reflection.
As you read the psalm, it becomes clear that the person most affected by the sin was David himself. “When I kept silent, my bones 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” (vv. 3–4). The weight of his sin was crushing. Repentance brought with it relief because it brought renewed intimacy with God. “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin…. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance” (vv. 5, 7).
To “confess” literally means “to speak the same thing.” The word implies agreement. When we confess, we do not tell God something that he does not already know. We agree with him on something he has already said. He has assessed our behaviour as sinful; confession agrees with that assessment. Confession, by its very nature, recognises that God has seen (with disapproval) what we have done and agrees that his disapproval is accurate.
Of course, this is not always an easy thing to do. Confession can be painful. It can wound us deeply because it calls us to admit realities about ourselves that we would rather not admit. But that is precisely the sort of honesty and transparency that is necessary to foster intimacy with God.
C. S. Lewis said that, in confession, “we must lay before [God] what is in us, not what ought to be in us.” That is, we confess to God the good, the bad, and the ugly, and seek forgiveness and cleansing for our sin. In so doing, we do what is required to restore and maintain relationship with him. We don’t confess because we want to let him know what we have done; we confess because we want to know him. And knowing God always benefits us more than it does him.
Christian, God knows your heart. He sees your actions. He hears your words. He knows your hidden thoughts. There is nothing you have done, said, or thought that he does not know. You hurt yourself by holding onto your sins. You benefit yourself by confessing them and embracing forgiveness.
Let’s commit together to confess and repent of our sins, not in order to inform God of what he otherwise wouldn’t know, but in order to pursue intimacy with him.