I’ve done things I wish I hadn’t. Haven’t you?
Of course you have, if you’re human. Screwing up is part of the human condition, at least until Christ comes back.
Starting early in the Bible, religious leaders started focusing on our tendency to do bad things. Things that were harmful to others. Things that separated us from God. Things that separated us from ourselves–our true selves, who we were intended to be. They lumped these bad things together into a category called “sin”. God gave Moses the Ten Commandment, and voila, we had a set of rules. Lines we should never cross.
But do you think God expected that we would be able to remain always on the right side of these lines?
Let’s look at it another way. God gave us free will so we could choose whether or not to follow him and nurture a deep, fulfilling relationship with him. And with that free will, God also gave us the ability to choose whether or not to live up to nearly impossible standards. Or to even try to live up to them. Do you suppose God expected that all of us would always make all the right choices, always choosing not to sin?
I think he may have hoped we would make the right decisions every time, but it doesn’t seem likely that he expected we would. Otherwise, why would he have launched a plan, way back when Adam and Eve made the first wrong choices, to rescue us and the world from ourselves (as alluded to in Genesis 3:15)?
Why Point Out Our Sins?
So why did God give us the Ten Commandments? To make us feel guilty?
No, not really. I think the overemphasis on guilt–on hellfire and damnation–is where religious leaders and “the church” have historically and traditionally gotten it wrong more often than not. As evidence of this, ask anyone you know who is not a follower of Christ what they think the focus of the Christian church is in the world today. I suspect you would hear more answers about shame, guilt, hypocrisy, and judgment than anything else.
Surely this is not what God intended, is it?
I don’t think so.
Here’s the thing: even without the Ten Commandments, God made us with an innate sense of morality. If this were not true, then atheists or other people who neither knew nor cared about the Ten Commandments would not have even a general notion of right and wrong. But they do. Why?
Because Breaking the Rules Breaks Us
Every time you or I commit even a “little” sin (even though there is no such thing, but we label them that way so we don’t have to feel as bad about it), it erodes us. It makes us a bit less than who we were made to be. And it opens the door ever so slightly more, allowing just a little bit more sin to creep into our hearts.
You may have heard it said that sin is anything that separates us from God, and that’s true. On top of that, this is how it happens that sin also separates us from our true selves, as I mentioned earlier.
That being the case, could it be that God gave us the Ten Commandments not so we would feel horrible about ourselves, but as a mirror, so we could see the truth about how ugly and misshapen we were allowing ourselves to become?
Well Maybe, But So What?
This is where it gets really good. God gave us this mirror to make us aware of our sin, of what we were doing to ourselves, to others, and to him. But he didn’t do this to make us feel bad about ourselves, except to the extent that we would turn to him for help.
Awareness of our sin is not meant to be a heavy, unbearable burden that we lug around, dragging into confessionals or therapists’ offices. Nope. Instead, it’s meant to turn us to the only One who can take away that sin. If we confess our sin completely and honestly to God, he will completely forgive us. He takes the burden away from us. He frees us from the guilt.
This is the exchange that took place between Christ and all of us who call him Lord at the moment of his crucifixion. He said, “I’ll take that which is breaking you and let it break me instead.” And in exchange, he gave us freedom from guilt. To borrow legal terminology, we are not just pardoned, we are exonerated, declared “not guilty.” It’s like we never did the bad things in the first place.
I can’t think of any news that’s better than this!
This is why it’s tragic that so much emphasis throughout church history has been on judging ourselves and others. It completely misses the “good news” side of the equation. The church should be known for grace, mercy, and forgiveness, not hate, bitterness, and judgment.
God Becomes Our Hiding Place Only When We Stop Hiding from Him
Psalms 32 is known as one of the seven Penitential Psalms. It describes repentance as a key step in the process of reclaiming wholeness for ourselves through the exchange with God at the cross. Verse 5 starts with:
Then and only then, after completely and honestly admitting our sin to God, will we be forgiven:
Again, that’s great news–God forgives the guilt of our sin. But what happens to us if we do not completely and honestly confess our sin to God?
So, it sounds like bad things happen to us, both spiritually and physiologically, until we recognize and confess our sin to God. Don’t try to hide from him. If you do, his hand will be heavy on you. I don’t know exactly what it would look like to have God’s hand be heavy on you, but I imagine it could range anywhere from depression and anxiety, to having the things you’re trying to hide becoming exposed. Yikes!
But God usually doesn’t deliver bad news without also offering a way out. This Psalm is no exception:
That brings us back to the really great news: you can give God all the rotten things you’ve ever done or said or thought. Dump all your garbage and filth on him. Tell him the truth. Then ask for and accept his forgiveness. He will carry away all of your burdens. All of your garbage and filth.
Then he will become your hiding place, your place of safety, your deliverance.
What a great deal! This is freedom. This is a return to God and the way we were meant to be.