“Strength sapped as in the heat of summer”: Reflections on Psalm 32
I’m glad summer’s over and not just because my girls are headed back to school. I’m done with the heat. One of my friends is sick of Philly summers. He’s heading back home to Minneapolis. He’d rather face those winters – 20 feet of snow and 4 months of daily temps below freezing. As a nation we experienced the hottest July on record. And in Philly it’s not just the temperature – the humidity is miserable. The air is already sticky at 5:30 in the morning. The combined heat and humidity makes me want to just lie on the couch in a dark, air-conditioned room. It sucks the life out of you.
This is exactly how David describes the effects of hidden sin in our life. “For 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” (Psalm 32:4-5). We turn to sexual sin trying to make life “work.” It offers escape from the stress of work and real relationships. It promises to spice up the day-to-day monotony. It provides the illusion of intimacy to the lonely. We use sex as a pressure-relief valve when we’re anxious, frustrated with various life circumstances or angry at our spouse. Psalm 32 describes the tragic irony of hidden sexual sin: we run to it for life, but it leaves us depleted and desolate. I enjoy yard work, but the summer heat makes it an oppressive chore. Similarly, sexual sin promises blessing and offers relief from life’s pressures, but is actually the thief of John 10 come only to steal and kill and destroy.
So we don’t find relief. In an instant the fantasy evaporates, the pleasure is gone and we’re left with all our original problems. Only now things are worse, exacerbated by our guilt and shame. And with each fall, the mounting inner turmoil sets us up to repeat the cycle again and again and again.
This Psalm points to the way out of this mess. It begins making the glorious declaration that we are “blessed” by God when our sins are forgiven. The gospel invites us to revel in this blessing because we have the irrevocable guarantee that our sins are forgiven. Jesus paid the debt in full. The Psalm concludes assuring us that we are surrounded by the steadfast love of the Lord. God so loved the world he sent Jesus for us. Jesus invites us to abide in his love that our joy may be full (see John 15:1-11). Peter says one of the reasons we fail to grow in the Christian life is because we forget we’ve been cleansed from our former sins (see 2 Peter 1:3-9).
And it goes further. We are promised care and protection through the trials of life. When the flood waters rise, they won’t sweep us away. Note: the passage is clear that trials will come. But it assures us we will be delivered. God will be our “hiding place” and “preserve” us from whatever the trouble may be. Unlike the false god of our sexual sin that brings emptiness and despair, embracing God in the midst of life’s trials brings comfort. We receive spiritual solace that sustains our soul, even as the chaos of life continues to swirl around us.
Finally, we’re exhorted to “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” Embracing the hope of the gospel – God with us – takes us from guilt, anxiety, frustration, shame, etc. to joy and thanksgiving. We are invited to know hope and peace. And it all begins when we stop hiding and get real with who we are and what we’re doing.
How has your experience with sexual sin been like the summer heat, sapping life and vitality?
Can you imagine what it would be like to be free?
32 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
5 I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
6 Therefore let everyone who is godly
offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
they shall not reach him.
7 You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you.
10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!