There is a difference between self-loathing arising from a distorted self-image and carrying the burden of knowing the unresolved harm one has done. It is possible to feel deep guilt when there is no guilt. There are however times when one can have done things that we have refused or failed to address. This can then build up In our mind and become, ‘a burden too heavy to bear.’ v4 It can feel that the more we suppress it the more it affects us, impacting our mood and personality, relationships and functioning, in everyday life.
We see in Psalm 38 that for David consciousness of his sin has not just impacted his relationships with people around him but with the Lord as well. David is a man who essentially both fears and worships God but he has here committed sin that deeply grieves God and himself. We can helpfully read this psalm as if it is the experience of someone who has previously not trusted in God but is now burdened down by the weight of his own sense of guilt, convinced by God of his guilt, he is now seeking forgiveness and a relationship with God. We can do this because much of the language fits that situation but it was not David’s true position.
David experiences God piercing his conscience v2 and this has translated itself into physical and mental symptoms. vv3,8 He concludes this section with, ‘I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart.’ v8 At this point he has stopped fighting and admits his situation before the Lord. ‘All my longings lie open before you, Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.’ v9 There are those who treat the confession of sin as a superficial thing, a quick fix and move on. David here shows that it can take time for a truly repentant spirit to work through their situation. His sin has caused a rift between him and his neighbours and friends. v11 He has created opportunities for his enemies to gain advantage. v12 In his prayer life he has found he cannot find words and simply has to be in the presence of God. ‘I have become like one who does not hear, whose mouth can offer no reply. Lord, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God.’ vv14,15
David remains worried that he has enemies that he does not deserve and he reverts to previous complaints to God that people who he has been good to are now falsely blaming him. vv19,20 This reminds us that simply confessing sin and being forgiven by God does not remove all troubles from life. David is aware of his continuing need to be close to God in his prayer, ‘Lord, do not forsake me; do not be far from me, my God. Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Saviour.’ vv21,22
Let us learn to rest in the grace of Christ. To quote Philip Yancey, ‘Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more . . . and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.’ (What’s so amazing about grace.)
Broken vessels – Hillsong W-orship