Summary: Pastoral Care and Psychology in Psalm 32
THE JOY OF FORGIVENESS
Let me take you on an unique journey through Psalm 32 using some assistance from the world my daughter inhabits – the world of psychology. She speaks a different language at work than I employ here at church but I’m not all that convinced were all that far apart in intent. You may want to keep a copy of the Psalm close by for reference as we walk through this Psalm quite systematically. You might also want to refresh your memory of the gospel lesson as Jesus takes us into the world of sin and mercy and forgiveness mixed in with a pack of righteousness and some pretty strong holier-than-thou attitudes that come crashing down.
In the gospel story, the woman who washes Jesus' feet out of extravagant gratitude and love is a notorious ‘sinner’ in the town – a woman with a reputation for loose living. She's really known as a sinner "with a capital S." Simon the religious leader may be a sinner because "we're all sinners," but that's different (at least in his own mind). His status as a sinner doesn't make him unworthy to have Jesus visit his home, along with certain other preferred guests, and it certainly doesn't put him above judging the intruding woman and even judging Jesus himself as he witnesses the scene before him. Simon's not moved or touched by the woman's love and tenderness, and he's not impressed by Jesus' lack of discernment and taste. In fact, he's so busy judging that he forgets to take care of the basics of hospitality himself, so it's ironic that the man with all the resources at his command (we can almost picture the setting in his comfortable home) doesn't use them generously for the sake of his guest, and then he turns a blind eye to the grace of a lowly woman entering uninvited into his little party.
Keep this woman and many more close to your heart as we begin a journey through this psalm.
Psychologists tell us that it is absolutely crucial to get out the harmful residue of life - the difficult and dark side that haunts the deepest recesses of our soul. Left to linger and fester, such negative emotions and dark thoughts can destroy a life of happiness and well-being with deep depression and mental states that need counseling, drugs, and further treatment.
Psychologists don't like to use the archaic word 'sin' because it doesn't fit into the psychological profile and professional assessment of the person they are attempting to help. But I can use it because it is the best word to describe the spiritual condition of many people in the world today- they are sin sick and sore from the suffering of the soul.
Let me add that many cross the divide between the psychologist and the preacher. The most famous is still probably Dr. Karl Menninger who says his purpose is to apply psychiatry to a worldwide affliction, the depression, gloom, discouragement and apprehensiveness which are prevalent. The word 'sin', he says, has almost disappeared from our vocabulary, but the sense of guilt remains in our hearts and minds. In an age when many ministers have lost a sense of purpose behind their preaching and pastoral counseling, Menninger challenges us to do what we do best and what no psychologist can ever do - and he says it like this: "Clergy have a golden opportunity to prevent some of the accumulated misapprehensions, guilt, aggressive action, and other roots of later mental suffering and mental disease. How? Preach! Tell it like it is. Say it from the pulpit. Cry it from the housetops. What shall we cry? Cry comfort, cry repentance, cry hope. And so we shall and this is the message of the psalmist to those who would serve as voices for the Lord in the world today get to the core of the problem and dig it out and expose it to the light and love of God and heal it, exorcise it and banish it forever.
The psychologist tells the patient to bring to the surface the negativity, the deep inner darkness, sometimes simple in order to verbalize it and thereby deal with it, other times to write it in a therapeutic journal that is descriptive of the life the patient is living, especially the darkest side, and some psychologists will even have their patients go through a ritual of having the journal burned, symbolic of the end of the negative influence and the start of a new existence. But I can say to a troubled soul quite emphatically that confession is necessary, pouring out all that is contrary to life and love, seeking out all that separates us from God and from one another, and, when confessed and then repented of, I can invite them to stand in the presence of the merciful and forgiving God made known in Jesus Christ and hear, 'your sins are forgiven you. Go, and sin no more.'