• Steven Marsh

Peace–Forgiveness is Central to the Gospel: a Reflection on Psalm 32

God’s forgiveness reached deep within David’s life. He embraced God and God delivered David. I imagine that David’s personal sin was just one facet of the political, physical, psychological and spiritual trauma he experienced. Prior to writing Psalm 32, David hid in the presence of God to bask in God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. God dealt with David’s perpetration of pain and suffering onto Bathsheba, her family, and the people of God. Bryan Stevenson writes, “We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others.”[1]

It is hard to believe that March is here. Yes, “March Madness” in NCAA Basketball is a focus, but more importantly the Lenten season has begun and Easter is a mere six weeks away. Jesus’ earthly obedience, death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead clearly demonstrate that hope is real in that God does what God promises. We begin a new sermon series this weekend looking at “Peace.” It continues through May 28. The resource that I am using and encourage you to read is Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Copies are available in the church office and at the Welcome Booth. Peace is a profound biblical concept and fundamentally means wholeness, contentment, and well-being. And forgiveness, receiving and giving, is at the foundation of wholeness, contentment, and well-being; that is peace in one’s life. Divine forgiveness and restoration are at the bedrock of Judaism. It was God’s free and unmerited choice of Abraham that bestowed God’s forgiveness and unconditional love upon him and his people. Michael Lodahl, Professor of Theology at Point Loma University, writes, “The surprise is not that God’s people Israel are the recipients of forgiveness, but that we who were ‘aliens from the commonwealth of Israel’ are as well, having been included through Jesus Christ.”[2] Resting in God’s mercy and being grateful that is being at peace, is transformative.

Remember the Holy Cow Assessment we took as a congregation in October 2015? On the energy/satisfaction quadrants we were low energy/low satisfaction (recovery) quadrant moving into the high energy/low satisfaction quadrant (transformation). And on the theological/flexibility quadrants we were conservative/settled moving toward conservative/adaptive.[3] Our transformation at Geneva into an intergenerational missional congregation requires that we have a firm grasp and experience of God’s peace. And we can have that sense of wholeness, contentment, and well-being when we grab on to the unconditional love and forgiveness of God, which continually reaches into our lives. It needs only to be embraced.

Psalm 32 makes it clear that human never initiates God’s forgiveness. It is God’s grace that comes first, even before our desire to seek the Holy One. God always makes the first move. We sense that and either respond in gratitude or not. The text in Psalm 32 makes three points for our consideration. First, the forgiveness of sin is an accomplished fact. Thinking we must earn forgiveness and do something for ourselves is an impediment to peace. David declares quite boldly that God forgave the guilt of his sin. To experience the depth of what God has already done, it is important to rehearse the crisis and then rest in the truth that what should have happened to us didn’t. God ought to count our sins against us, but God does not. God is merciful. Second, do not be stubborn and disobedient. Pride hinders peace. We are to receive what we do not deserve. And then share the good news of God’s forgiveness and how we live not captured by guilt and shame anymore. And that is wanted and needed good news for many people to hear and experience. Third, the door of grace is wide open. [4] Spurning God’s grace blocks peace. We must take advantage of God’s grace when we see it, feel it, and it calls us by name. God is always available, but we must act! Let us take David seriously when he admonishes us to always pray to God while God can be found. Bryan Chapell, President Emeritus of Covenant Theological Seminary, shares the following historical account:

During the Great Awakening, when the Spirit of God revived much of our nation’s early faith, Jonathan Edwards was presiding over a massive prayer meeting. Eight hundred men prayed with him. Into that meeting, a woman sent a message asking the men to pray for her husband. The note described a man who had become unloving, prideful, and difficult. Edwards read the message in private and then, thinking that perhaps the man described was present, made a bold request. Edwards read the note to the 800 men. Then he asked if the man who had been described would raise his hand, so that the whole assembly could pray for him. Three hundred men raised their hands.[5]

Judaism and Christianity share much in common. Divine forgiveness is an accomplished fact that is ours to seize. The season of Lent allows us to come face to face with those dark places in our lives and confess our sin. Take great courage, you are already forgiven. But when we ask, the flood of God’s peace enters our experience. The fact that God has already forgiven us should embolden us not to be stubborn and disobedient, but to walk straight through the open door of God’s grace. Then our fears and insecurities no longer hold power over us and the new beginning of an amended life starts. Glory to God. We experience that sin does not win.

[1]Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy (New York City, New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2014), 19.

[2]Michael Lodahl in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 32, 34.

[3]Naming of organizational IQ quadrants borrowed from Russell Crabtree.

[4]My thinking in this paragraph has been informed by the writing of G. Hassell Bullock, Teach the Txt Commentary Series, Psalms 1-72 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2015), 236-242.

[5]Bryan Chapell, Holiness By Grace (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2001), 80.

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