Guilt Is Really A Survival Mechanism For Our Souls

Image via Flickr With Modifications

Image via Flickr With Modifications

This psalm gives powerful proof of the liberation that comes to the heart, the soul and the mind when we confess our sins openly to God. It is a perfect description of the workings of the conscience within us. Sin is the prime source of our feelings of shame. We often try to hide from, or to deny the guilty feelings that naturally follow our sins. We will do anything to hide these feelings from others, yes, even God. But guilt is a terrible burden and it has very real consequences.

We do not often think about this, but guilt is really a survival mechanism for our souls, just as pain is a survival tool for our physical and emotional health. Physical pains, and those feelings of guilt that bother our consciences, are warning signs that deserve our purposeful attention.

At the beginning of Psalm 32, the psalmist expresses the idea of how blesséd it is to be forgiven: “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.” (verses 1-2) Could the psalmist say this if he had not experienced this? No. He could not. He reveals that he indeed has experienced this relief, this blessed sense in the next verses, when he describes how he had tried to hide his sins from God by keeping silent about them. But remaining silent about his guilts, not confessing them, had consequences: “…my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” (verse 3) His conscience (God’s “hand”) was heavy upon him and his strength withered. Is this not true for us as well? We can and often do experience physical and emotional consequences related to the stresses we experience due to our attempts to hide from our guilts. Why? Because we have a conscience. Paul describes the workings of the conscience perfectly in his letter to the Romans when he writes about the judgement of the inner law: “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” (Romans 2:15)

Confessing our sins is the source of both our healing and our joy. The psalmist comes to this realization when he says, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity…And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (verse 5) Because he has confessed his sins, he now feels the blessed peace of the Lord’s forgiveness. His joy is so complete that he is compelled now to teach us to go and do the same. He tells us that those who trust in the Lord, who confess their sins to him, will feel the joy and the comfort that comes from knowing that “the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds them.” (verse 10) Conscience is a great gift. Let us pay heed to it. It is the ‘hand of God” within, weighing on us when we go astray, and lifting us up with joy when we do good.

Lord, you of unfailing love, give us the courage to come to you with our guilts, to confess them in the confidence of your love. It is your peace that our minds, our hearts and our souls seek. In faith we turn to you for forgiveness. Your mercy is our greatest blessing, Lord. In your name, Jesus, we pray. 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.