I remember seeing a Peanuts cartoon where some unnamed stranger was walking around on a sidewalk with a sign that read, “Guilty!” Charlie Brown looked at the sign and wondered to himself, “How did he know?” Some people, like Charlie Brown, continually struggle with a guilty conscience, even if it isn’t justified.
King David had every reason to feel guilty. It is because he was guilty. He had committed that awful series of sins – adultery and murder – and was dealing with great guilt. It was magnified when God sent His prophet Nathan to confront and correct David. For so long David didn’t honestly face the reality of his sins. In his autobiographical account of those dark days David recorded:
“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4).
It’s clear that David was smothered by guilt. There are at least four different ways we deal with our guilt:
Sometimes we simply refuse delivery of guilt. Even with a raging conscience we can find ways to drown out the voice of conviction. That’s a dangerous place to be … to stop listening to the conviction of the Holy Spirit when we have sinned.
Sometimes people blame others for their sin and failures. They refuse to take personal responsibility for it. It’s always someone else’s fault. It’s like Eve eating the forbidden fruit and saying, “The snake made me do it.” We are often masters at finding ways to justify our sinful behavior rather than honestly admitting we have sinned.
Sometimes when we feel conviction and the guilt of our sin we go places with it that God never intended for us to go. We can condemn ourselves for everything that goes wrong in our lives, even things we had no way of changing … a bad investment … a career change that didn’t turn out like we hoped … a painful divorce … a rebellious child. And we whip ourselves over and over. But that’s not the purpose of God’s conviction of sin. We are not to turn guilt in on ourselves, but to turn it up toward God.
That is, we are to use the guilt and the conviction the way God intended for it to be used … to drive us to Himself and to His grace and mercy. And that’s what David does:
“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’— and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).
David experienced the incredible freedom of forgiveness and guilt when he confessed his sin before God. Confession doesn’t inform God of something He doesn’t already know. It is our way of acknowledging that we agree with God when He convicts us of sin. It is an opportunity for us to say, “The Lord is always right in His judgments. May His name be praised.”