Opening discussion: Think of a time when a friend offered you forgiveness. How did you feel?
When we put our trust in Jesus, God offers His forgiveness to us, and we should feel the same way. Today we’re going to study Psalm 32 and experience God’s forgiveness toward us.
Charles Roberts was a troubled man. On the morning of October 2, 2006, at 8:45am, Charles and his wife walked their three children to the school bus stop. When Mrs. Roberts returned home a little before 11:00am, she discovered four suicide notes, one each for her and their three children.
Charles continued to his job as a milk truck driver. At 10:25am, Charles entered the West Nickel Mines School, a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster Pennsylvania. Charles ordered a pregnant woman, three parents with infants, and all the male students to leave. The female students, young girls aged 6-13, were lined up against a chalkboard. Charles barricaded the front door, and then bound the arms and legs of the girls with plastic ties.
At 11:07am, Charles began shooting the schoolgirls. Charles Roberts shot and killed five girls aged 6-13 and seriously wounded 5 others before killing himself. Of those 5 wounded, 4 have made significant recovery, though the youngest, 6 year old Rosanna King, has serious brain injuries. She does not walk or talk and is confined to a wheelchair, although family members say she recognizes them and frequently smiles.
What motivated Charles Roberts that morning will never be fully known, but clues may be found in his suicide letters. He confessed in his letter to his wife that he had molested two young female relatives, aged 3 and 5, twenty years prior. He had been having dreams of molesting again. He also indicated despondency over the death of a daughter nine years ealier who had died twenty minutes after childbirth.
You might remember this news story three years ago. The Amish community, struck by this horrific tragedy, were quick and ample with their forgiveness. An Amish neighbor visited Mrs. Roberts within hours of the shooting to comfort and extend forgiveness. On the day of the shooting, the Amish grandfather of one of the victims was reminding Amish leaders not to think evil of the shooter, and one father said, “He had a mother and a wife and a soul, and now he’s standing before a just God.” Many Amish community members visited Charles Roberts family, his parents, and his parents-in-law. Charles Roberts father broke down in tears at his son’s death, and an Amish man held him in his arms for an hour to offer comfort. Thirty members of the Amish community attended the funeral of Charles Roberts and setup a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. Charles Roberts so desparately needed forgiveness; the Amish community so beautifully demonstrated what forgiveness is.
So, what is forgiveness? It’s important to clarify what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not ignorance, saying that something is ok when it’s clearly not, like an abusive situation. Forgiveness is not covering something up, saying, “that’s ok, you didn’t do anything wrong.” Forgiveness is not denial, pretending that you’re not hurt. And forgiveness definitely doesn’t mean acceptance, that it’s ok to continue doing the same behavior that hurt you in the first place.
So, I ask again, what is forgiveness? A Christian definition could be that I give up my right to hurt you for hurting me. After forgiveness, we do not use the hurt to hurt them back. The Amish made headlines for portraying forgiveness no only for how thorough they were, going out of their way to bless those involved in their hurt, but also for how instantaneous it was.
We know, as Christians, that we are to forgive others, but we want to nurture the pain a little bit, perhaps hold a grudge for a while. A mean word means we stay mad at them for a day before we forgive them. A serious breach may take years before we’re ready to forgive. But forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. And while we may struggle to forgive others, sometimes it’s harder to forgive ourselves. Charles Roberts was a man in need of forgiveness from his past sins. Today’s lesson comes from Psalm 32 and tells us about God’s forgiveness.
II. Psalm 32:1-4, Blessed by Forgiveness
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
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 sapped as in the heat of summer.
Psalm 19 begins by reminding us how blessed we are by the forgiveness from God. One of the things we must come to grips with as believers in Christ is that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. We do not put God as a priority in our life as we should, we put ourselves first in front of God and others, we are judgmental of others, we hold grudges, we lie to protect ourselves, we have many, many ways we sin. If God forgave us as we forgive, first God would punish us. He’d say, “I’m not speaking to you. I need time before I’m ready to forgive you.” But thankfully, he doesn’t do that. Romans 5:8 says, ” God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Imagine the difficulty of experiencing Christ’s love if that we had to be perfect first.
As Christians, we experience Christ’s love long before we deserve it. What God asks us to do is confess our sins to Him. Do you think God is unaware of our sins? Why, then, does God ask us to confess them to Him?
I think it is to make *us* aware of our sins. In Psalm 139, David says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart.” 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” Confession to God, a true confession, let’s the Holy Spirit work within us to reveal our own hypocrisies and evil, especially when we try our best to remain ignorant of our own follies.
Who here thinks they are perfect and upholding God’s will in their life with no missteps? None of us do, we know that. (Discussion questions: Why do you think people try to hide their sins from God? What happens when people try to hide their sins from God? How can people find relief from guilt?)
Keeping that knowledge to ourselves weighs heavily on us, Psalms says the weight of God’s hand is heavy on us. So how do we lift His heavy hand and receive God’s blessing? The answer is verse 5.
III. Psalm 32:5, Confession to the Forgiver
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD “—
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Being honest with God yields a huge benefit for us. God forgives us! And God, being a perfect and holy God, is also perfect with His forgiveness. The punishment we so deserve – which, frankly, is exclusion from His Holy presence for all eternity – is waived. God forgives perfectly. Psalm 103:12 says, ” As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
So does God forget our sins? The idea that a perfect God could have amnesia disturbs me. I have memory problems – I remember all sorts of stupid stuff. I have goofy jokes in my head, I can remember every word to the theme song from Gilligans’s Island, both versions. The version where instead of naming the Professor and Mary Ann they say “And the rest are here on Gilligan’s Isle!” bothers me, and I wonder if the Professor and Mary Ann ever had their feelings hurt by just being called “and the rest.” But I digress. I remember stuff like that, and then I forget stupid stuff, too.
One of my common forgetfulness happens nearly every morning in the shower. Did I shampoo my hair today? I remember shampooing my hair, but I can’t remember if that was this morning or some other morning I remember. I almost always play it safe, and as soon as I start the second shampoo, I can tell immediately if my hair was already clean. But every once in a while, I convince myself that I should *not* shampoo my hair a second time. And several hours later, I can tell. I didn’t shampoo my hair today. And the whole time I’m telling this story, stupid jokes pop into my head that I suddenly remember. “Why use shampoo when real poo is free?”
God does not forget our sins. He is perfect, and my forgetfulness is demonstration of imperfection. Hebrews 10:17 says “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” It’s not a matter of forgetfulness. It is an intentional decision not to bring the matter us to punish us. If we want to follow God’s example, we should be quick to forgive others, and remember no more those actions that hurt us. And perhaps just as important, we should also experience God’s forgiveness. If we have confessed our transgressions to God, He remembers no more and will not bring it up to punish us. So, too, we should also take those confessed sins and stop using them to punish ourselves. Let’s look at the benefits of confession in verses 6& 7.
IV. Psalm 32:6-7, Benefits of Confession
Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found;
surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.
You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
Discussion: How does God respond to those who repent? And how does God want us to respond to his correction?
We find favor with God when we allow Him to search us. Knowing we are in God’s favor gives us comfort that we are His loved children and that our protective Father is watching out for us. Confessing our sins gives us strength to resist or flee from sins, and therefore we are protected by God from the repercussions of our sins. Unconfessed sins allows us to lie to ourselves that perhaps they aren’t sins, or that our sins aren’t too bad or perhaps we deserve to sins because we are so good or somebody else is bad. Psalm 32 tells us that confessed sins enabled us to hid in God and be protected, while unconfessed sins, too, cause God to work in our lives in ways that are uncomfortable. Look at the rest of this Psalm.
V. Psalm 32:8-11, The Rejoicing of the Righteous
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you and watch over you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.
Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD’s unfailing love
surrounds the man who trusts in him.
Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!
When we do no confess our sins, we are doomed to repeat our sin. Eventually, we will be taught by our sins. God can either teach us through our obedience, or He will teach us as a mule is taught. He will put the bit and bridle on us and lead us until we understand. That way leads to unhappiness, as the wicked are unhappy being outside of the will of God. But those who confess their sins to the Lord are free of the bondage of sins and have reason to rejoice.
Discussion: What keeps people from accepting God’s forgiveness?
There are many reasons for us to forgive others and for us to experience forgiveness. We forgive others in obedience; in Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus says, ” For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” We also forgive others to gain control over our own hurt emotions; In Genesis 4, Cain was so hurt that he let his emotions lead him into killing his brother Abel. And forgiveness also keeps us from becoming bitter and defiling others around us; in Hebrews 12:14-15 says ” Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
But most of all, we practice forgiveness to experience God’s forgiveness. We ask God to search us so we can confess our big sins and our little sins so that our sins do not hold us hostage. In Christ, we are free, and we experience joy in being free.