Summary: If our society is so sophisticated that it is tolerant of what was once known as sin, why do we still have so much depression, fatigue, illness, and violence? Is there a prescription for the underlying guilt?
I wonder….If our society is so sophisticated that we are supposed to be beyond our need for God, why do we have so many depressed and suicidal people in our population? And if Freud was correct that all of our guilt can be tied to repression, why is it that our society of tolerance and acceptance has a higher percentage of people who need psychological help than earlier eras, even though there is less need for repression than in Freud’s day?
Believe it or not, there is an answer to those questions. There is one cause that is probably the single most prevalent cause of depression, fatigue, and psychosomatic illness in the United States today. There is one cause for the root of hostility that leads to violence and crimes against persons and property. Yet, it is more often spoken of as a disease, a behavior, an idiosyncrasy, a crime or a habit than by its real name. Yes, like Dr. Karl Menninger, the founder of the world-famous Menninger Institute, I’m talking about a subject that is rarely identified by its proper identifier. In his 1973 bestseller, Whatever Became of Sin?, the famous psychologist spoke of how humans are uncomfortable with the idea of sin, so we try to get rid of it via projection (“It’s really someone else’s fault!”), denial (“I don’t have a problem!”), or self-punishment (“If you really knew how bad I am, you wouldn’t…”).
Yes, today I want to say that SIN really exists. SIN isn’t something that leaders in the church made up in order to maintain control over their congregations. Now, I’m not saying that church leaders haven’t distorted the definitions of sins in order to serve their own purposes, but SIN as rebellion against God is a constant. God commanded us to avoid certain attitudes and actions because they are ultimately self-destructive. So, when we try to go against God, we hurt ourselves.
Now, the fact is that you have a sin problem and I have a sin problem. The good news is that mental health and the sense of physical, social and spiritual well-being that comes with mental health is immediately available. But don’t take my word for it. Take the word of a person who had a real SIN problem. Take the word of a murderer, an adulterer, and a liar. Take the word of a person who should have and, at various times did, experience a great deal of guilt. Take King David.
The Hebrew superscription of Psalm 32 indicates that the psalm was either written by or written for (commissioned by) King David after his experience with Bathsheba where he got her pregnant and had her husband murdered as a failed attempt to cover up his sin. Yet, according to Psalm 32, he managed to find a solution to his SIN problem. Even though most of us will never commit the two dramatic sins of murder and adultery that he committed, the same solution to the SIN problem is available to us. Let’s read the passage.
(Read Psalm 32)
In the first two verse of the psalm, the Bible uses four different words for SIN and repeats the word “Blessed” twice. We don’t use the word, “blessed,” much anymore outside of the church context. Sometimes, I hear it in the African-American community when church-going folks say, “Have a blessed day!” But, in general, we don’t use this word.
To “bless” or to be “blessed” in the Old Testament didn’t merely mean to say some good words. To “bless” meant to offer something tangible, some good service, experience, or gift. To be “blessed” meant to receive some tangible, good service, experience, or gift. So, we could really translate this word as: “well-off,” “successful,” “healthy,” or “to be congratulated” as opposed to the archaic “blessed” or the oversimplified “happy” of many modern translations. In short, I think the psalm means that the mental health and the sense of physical, social and spiritual well-being that I spoke about earlier is clearly available.
This word for mental, physical, and spiritual health (“blessed”) begins each of the two lines found in Psalm 32:1. So, we know that the two phrases that follow each of the introductory “blessed” terms must go together. Some scholars think these means that both phrases mean exactly the same thing—what they call synonymous parallelism. But I notice that the two phrases usually considered to mean the same things sort of form the flip-side of each other. If we interpret them in this way, we would have SIN as action in the first phrase of each line and SIN as inaction or potential in the second phrases.
Before you write me off as an intellectual kook, try to hear me out. The first phrase in the verse says, literally, “Well-off is the one who has rebellion lifted off.” There are a couple of key ideas here. First, the word used for sin is the word that is best translated as “rebellion” or “transgression.” It is a word that comes from the world of international diplomacy. It is the word that would be used for breaking treaties, provoking war, or stabbing nations and kings in the back. In short, it is deliberately breaking a treaty or contract. It is going over the line. It is doing what one knows to be wrong.