C. S. Lewis once observed, ‘I think we all sin by needlessly disobeying the apostolic injunction to “rejoice” as much as by anything else.’
Was he right? Is there real joy in our lives?
I am not talking about a manufactured, false kind of joy – putting on a brave face when we are anxious or when things go wrong in life. I am talking about, and I am sure Lewis was talking about, the deep joy that springs from a clear conscience.
The concluding verses of Psalm 32 read:
Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
Why should we be glad and rejoice? What might motivate us to shout for joy?
David wrote Psalm 32 following the humiliating exposure of his affair with Bathsheba. While he wrote it about himself we too can benefit, for if we are going to find the kind of joy that he is speaking about we need to attend to his words. Verses 1 and 2 read:
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
Freud told us that guilt is a psychological hang-up. But King David tells us that it is something objective, something real that stands between each one of us and our Maker. The God who rules the universe is not simply an impersonal force. He is a moral being, a holy judge.
However, we do not naturally lead godly lives, pray, trust God, and generally delight in honoring him. Our natural inclination is to try to cover up our sin, thinking of our failures as foibles and misdemeanors. So, we often compromise on issues we know are wrong, calling it tolerance; we slide into godlessness, thinking we are free.
In Psalm 32 King David is telling us that when we ignore God we offend him. This is one of the tough words of Christianity. Malcolm Muggeridge, a former editor of the English Punch magazine put it this way: The depravity of man is at once the most unpopular of all dogmas, but the most empirically verifiable.
Forgiveness. The only safe way, the only permanent way, to deal with guilt is to have it washed away. And there is only one person in the world with the cleansing power needed to erase such stains – the Lord himself. David knew this: Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
We have a far better knowledge of the truth of David’s words because we live on the other side of the cross of Jesus Christ. Christ died for our sins, the apostle Paul wrote. And it is Psalm 32 that he quotes in Romans 4:6-8 where he argues that God, in his mercy, declares an amnesty for sinners who turn to him in faith. We are saved by grace alone, not by any intrinsic good within us or by any good works we have done.
Reason for joy. Too often our lack of joy comes because we have not been honest with God and opened our hearts to him. We have not truly grasped that in Christ our sins are washed away and that each day we can enjoy a fresh start in life.