Sometimes Out of Ignorance We Sin and Cause Harm

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Verses 12-13 in Psalm 19 express some very important awareness’s for all of us to consider. “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!” These insights are important for the health of our soul.

First, we come in touch with the fact that we are often, for one reason or another, unaware of the fact that we have sinned. This is why David says, “Who can discern his errors?” Sometimes out of ignorance we sin and cause harm. This ignorance can be the result of some lack in our spiritual education, or experience. We might not even be aware that something we have said or done has caused harm. This ignorance does not relieve us of our guilt. But ignorance is curable. And when we do learn of our error, God is always waiting to forgive our errors. Indeed, it is through his grace that we can come to know our errors. This grace of awareness of our sins may come to us directly through the Holy Spirit working in our conscience, or indirectly through a friend, or from reading a word in the scriptures, or being struck by the words of a sermon. God can truly work in mysterious ways.

But there is another kind of sin that is mentioned here that is truly dangerous to our souls, that is, the sin of presumption. To presume that God’s mercy will be given even without one’s conversion, or merit, is madness. To presume that one need not change one’s sinful ways in order to receive God’s forgiveness is to presume that he makes no distinction between good and evil, that they are equals. It denies the purpose of the Incarnation of Jesus, his suffering and death in order to redeem us from the slavery of sin and death once and for all. This is a sin against the Holy Spirit.

The other form of presumption is despair. This is a sin against hope. One ceases to hope for God’s love or help. It is to presume that one is too lost, too bad to be loved by God. It is a denial of God’s infinite love and capacity for forgiveness. It is a denial, again, of Jesus’ death on the cross for all the sins of the world. This, too, is a sin against the Holy Spirit. It is to believe that one is beyond the infinite capacity of God’s love to forgive. It is this presumptuousness that the psalmist wants to be protected from when he says, “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins.”

Lord, we are always in need of your grace and your forgiveness. Give us the grace of holy humility and faith. Help us to know our need for you and to trust in your faithfulness toward us, even when we fail. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.