Psalm 32 begins with the phrase “Blessed is the one…” and I’ve often wondered what “blessed” really means. The Psalms use “blessed” quite a bit (twenty-five times to be exact) which is more than half of the times it’s used in the Old Testament (forty-five times). In the New Testament, the Greek equivalent is used fifty times. I realize this may not seem like a lot, but it is enough for me to ask the question, do I really know what “blessed” means?
With a little study, we can find both the Greek (makarios) and the Hebrew (esher) words for “blessed” offer “happiness” as their primary definition. Given the modern distinction between “happiness” and “joy” one would think this means “blessed” to be a shallow term, but I believe, instead, it means we have made a mountain out of a molehill. With further study (something we don’t have time for in this post) we will find Scripture doesn’t make a distinction between “happiness” and “joy”, seemingly indicating to be “blessed” is to be “happy.”
It should then be no great surprise that Psalm 32 tells us we are blessed when our sins are forgiven by God: happiness comes from being forgiven. I know this is not rocket science and it’s certainly not new, but read that again: God’s forgiveness brings us happiness. I wonder, though, is this happiness achieved passively or actively? What I mean is, do we have to do anything for it or do we just wait for it to come cascading down upon us from heaven?
At the risk of offending various theologians, I think the happiness God provides requires our active participation. I don’t mean to say God’s forgiveness isn’t sufficient, but I mean we have to do something, and it’s something I’ve found to be one of the most difficult things to do: we have to acknowledge our sin. We cannot cover up any sin, but we must go to God and tell him about it. Even though God is omniscient, that isn’t enough: we must use our voices. We must decide that we can’t keep the festering sin inside anymore, we need to release it, and we need to confess it. But even though this is something I think the vast majority of humanity actually understands, both Christian and non-Christian alike, it is something we still don’t do.
Up until a few years ago, I wondered why so many people went to counselors and therapists, but now I think I know, or at least partially understand. Medical necessity aside, (which is a very real and important reason for counselors and therapists), I think we all realize the only way to be truly happy is to express the troubles hidden inside of us, and more often than not these troubles are the sin and guilt with which we struggle. And while sin and guilt may not be the only reason for counselors, I know from personal experience (cliche alert!) confession is good for the soul. When I have kept things bottled up inside me I find I am unable to act: my mind is constantly brewing on what I’ve done, what I’ve thought, what I’ve said, and how bad it is. I spiral into a tumultuous sea of self-loathing and can see no hope of rescue. But, when I allow myself the freedom to confess to a counselor or a friend what is inside of me, I am transported out of the sea of self-loathing and I find myself on placid waters. Sadly, however, as is often the case, this is often only for a short time; eventually, the despair returns.
But the psalmist in Psalm 32 offers a twist the constant recurrence of despair: confession offered to God brings about rejoicing. I think this is because no therapist can absolve me of my sin. No friend, community group, priest, or chat-room can offer the freedom from sin that God does. David says later (Psalm 51) when we sin, we sin only against God, and as such, it is only God who can forgive our sins. It is only God who can make our life blessed. It is only God that can provide happiness. It is only confession to God, true confession, keeping us from diving back into self-loathing and despair.
Imagine, if you will, you have offended your best friend. Does it do any good to go to someone else to try and make things better? No. We have to swallow our pride and go to the very one we have offended, in this case, our friend. It is the same with sin, we have to go to the one who was offended by our sin, and that is, in every case, God.
This does not, however, preclude going to the others who bear the brunt of the consequences of our sinful actions. In fact, we have to go to them to make things right: that is important. But it is essential we go to the one against whom our sin is measured because only he has to power to forgive sins and only can change our heart: that is the only way to find happiness; that is the source of joy; and, I believe, that is what it means to be blessed.