Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.Psalm 32:1
The first word in tonight’s Psalm might be a bit of a surprise for a psalm appointed during the Season of Lent, but it is arguably what the whole book of psalms is about, and that is happiness. That is the first word of tonight’s psalm and also the first word in the whole book of psalms. Happy. It’s a good word. It’s something that we all want, of course. For ourselves, and also for our loved ones. But what does it mean to be happy?
Let’s look at how the world defines it, and then how the psalms define it. So, you might say, happiness according to the world versus happiness according to the Word. In an article on webmd.com, they reported the result of a study on long-term happiness. Here is what it says:
A study suggests the key to long-term happiness may lie not only in your genes, but also in the choices you make in life. Researchers say the findings contradict the popular notion that life satisfaction is largely determined by a person’s genes, marital status, or personality. Instead, researchers found choices relating to one’s partner, the balance between work and leisure time, participation in social activities, and healthy lifestyle are key factors in determining life satisfaction.webmd.com
Happiness is determined in large part by the choices we make in life. Placing a high priority on family and altruistic goals, participation in social events, including church attendance, and a healthy lifestyle are all keys to being happy. Makes sense, right? So, that’s what the studies show. But long before there were any psychological studies being conducted, God’s Word was revealing insights into happiness.
Happiness in the Psalms
The Book of Psalms, as I noted, begins with the word happy (or sometimes translated blessed). And this becomes a recurring theme in the psalms. It is clear from the psalms that God wants us to be happy. So what are some of the keys to happiness, according to the psalms? I did a little research, and here is what I found. Let’s start with the first psalm, Psalm 1, which begins:
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.
Living a righteous life, and taking delight in God’s Word, are keys to happiness, according to Psalm 1. In several psalms – including Psalm 2, 34, 40, 112, and 128 – a key to happiness is to place our trust in the Lord; to fear the Lord; and to take refuge in the Lord. In Psalm 84, among other places, a key to happiness is to be right where we are now, in the Lord’s House praising and worshiping the Lord. In Psalm 41, among other places, a key to happiness is to remember the poor, and to treat them with justice. In the last reference to happiness in the psalms, Psalm 146, we read: “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.” This Psalm lifts up an important link between happiness and hope. And anyone can hope when we put our hope in the Lord.
But what about tonight’s Psalm? Psalm 32 lifts up another key to happiness, which is not considered in contemporary psychological research, or even in the other psalms I mentioned.
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity.
The key to happiness being remembered tonight, in other words, is the forgiveness of our sins.
Forgiveness of Sin
In this broken world of ours, sin is inevitable. And the weight of sin can be great. The burden of sin can dry up our strength, as tonight’s Psalm points out. It can take away our joy. Again, from Psalm 32:
While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin.Psalm 32:3-5
That is what unacknowledged sin does to us. It eats us up, takes away our strength, our hope, our happiness. We might have found all the other keys to being happy, but something will still be missing from our life if we are not reconciled with God; if we have not come to the Lord confessing our sin and being forgiven our sin.
But what is so unique about this key to happiness, it seems to me, is that this key is not ours to obtain. We can ask for it. But, ultimately, forgiveness can only be given to us by the one whom we have wronged. When we sin, the one whom we wrong is God and God alone. Forgiveness of our sin can only be offered by God.
The Season of Lent is a time when we take our sin seriously, and when we engage in practices to turn from our sin. But we do so without ever forgetting that the ultimate source of healing and forgiveness for our many sins is found at the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross may seem an unlikely place to look for happiness and blessedness, but it is where forgiveness begins. And those whose sins are forgiven are happy, indeed.
This Psalm ends in the only way that a Psalm about forgiveness can end – with a word of rejoicing:
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.Psalm 32:11
Sackcloth and ashes, humble repentance before the Lord, always become alleluias and hymns of praise, as the cross makes way for the empty tomb. It is the Lenten journey. And happy, indeed, are all who travel this road. Amen