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Connections 03.01.2020: Replacing the Plug

Psalm 32

It’s an image most of us are familiar with: the dropping of a stone into water produces ripples, which represent the ongoing effects of an action.

So, a preacher or teacher might say that when we commit a sin, it has ongoing effects that we can’t anticipate. In particular, it can affect other people’s lives.

Christians really ought to think about that reality. After all, we should care about other people. We should be more concerned for them than we are for ourselves. We need to consider how a sinful act on our part can negatively affect our family, our friends, our sisters and brothers in Christ, our community, and even our world.

But we should also be aware of and consider the ongoing effect that sin can have on us.

We need a different image to ponder that reality.

Maybe a plug in a bathtub drain will be helpful. Imagine that a tub filled with water represents your life. Removing the plug represents a sinful act. Once you pull the plug, the water begins to drain from the tub. If you leave the plug out, all the water will be drained.

In a similar way, sin can drain the joy, peace, and meaning from your life.

We can stop the water from draining by replacing the plug. The analogy breaks down at this point, because we can’t undo the sin we’ve committed. But maybe we can think of repentance as replacing the plug. What’s done is done, but repentance can stop, and maybe even reverse, the damage that unacknowledged, unconfessed, and unforgiven sin can inflict on us.

The psalmist says, “While I kept my silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long” (v. 3). While he failed to acknowledge and failed to confess his sin, he suffered. He evidently suffered physically. We can probably assume that spiritual and emotional suffering brought on his physical decay.

The psalmist’s sin removed the plug from the drain of his life, and the water—the joy, peace, and meaning—began to leave him.

But, the psalmist says to God, “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” (v. 5). He then offers words of praise to God that include these: “You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance” (v. 6).

When we sin, it’s like removing the plug from the bathtub drain. As the water drains from the tub, so the joy, peace, and meaning can drain from our lives. When we replace the plug—when we acknowledge, confess, and repent of our sin—then God forgives us, and the water of God’s grace, mercy, and love begins to flow back into us.

When we replace the plug in the bathtub drain, the water that drained out is gone. We can’t get it back. But we can run more water into the tub, provided we have a water supply.

On this first Sunday in Lent, it is good to remember that God has a great reservoir of grace and mercy to pour into our lives after we confess and repent.

Thanks be to God!

Discussion

  • What does it mean to repent?
  • How should a person’s life be different after repenting and receiving God’s forgiveness?
  • How can unacknowledged, unconfessed, and unforgiven sin affect our lives? The lives of other people?
  • What can keep us from repenting of our sins?
  • Read Romans 5:12-19 (another of the lectionary’s readings for this Sunday). How can Paul’s words increase our understanding of and confidence in God’s forgiveness?

Reference Shelf

This was the favorite psalm of the early Christian scholar Augustine. It is one of the seven penitential psalms of the ancient church (Pss 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143). Modern scholars classify Ps 32 as an individual thanksgiving combined with some elements of wisdom poetry, instead of listing it among the penitential psalms. The psalm assumes an experience of forgiveness and deliverance in the past that has become the subject of grateful testimony to a congregation at the sanctuary, or to a similar group.

The happy state of the forgiven person is expressed (vv. 1-2) in language hardly surpassed in the Bible. The “happiness” (cf. Ps 1) of the forgiven person permits a look back on the agony of past experience.

Verses 1-2 contain a concentration of OT terms for sin. transgression conveys the idea of willful disobedience and rebellion against the divine purpose. It has been called the OT’s most profound word for sin.

Sin translates the most common Hebrew word for sin in the OT. The basic idea is of missing the mark of the thing aimed at, failure.

Iniquity indicates an action or omission of action that produces some twisting effect or deviation from the straight. It carries the idea of distortion and warping of character and of relationships.

The word translated deceit bears undertones of self-deception and unwillingness to honestly assume responsibility for one’s actions.

The terminology of sin is matched by the terminology of forgiveness. To be forgiven is to have a burden lifted away so that it no longer interferes with one’s freedom of action. When sin is covered it is treated in such a way that the offense is no longer seen as the subject of judgment. In this context it is God who has “covered” the sin. If a person has no iniquity imputed he is no longer held guilty.

Verses 3-4 express the distress that had developed in the worshiper before confession and forgiveness relieved the condition. The hand of God was heavy as it always is for the unforgiven. Relief came to the speaker when sin was confessed to Yahweh (v. 5). Then (i.e., after the confession) the speaker received forgiveness. Honesty before God is an essential prerequisite for a satisfactory relationship.

There seems to be a dual address in vv. 6-7, which are directed both to God (as prayer) and to the congregation (as teaching).

The vocabulary used in vv. 8-11 is either that of the wisdom traditions or very similar to them. The determination of the speaker in v. 8 is uncertain. The verse may be understood as a message from God, or it may be treated as instruction by the speaker in the main part of the psalm. It seems more probable that God is the speaker.

A parable-like saying is found in v. 9, which is a warning against stubborn, mulish behavior. The plural form of the command indicates the speaker wants to admonish the group addressed to be open to the instruction referred to in v. 9. Verse 10 is a general statement that contrasts the ways of the wicked with those who trust in the Lord. A hymn-like call to praise concludes the psalm (v. 11).

Marvin E. Tate, “Psalms,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1995), 459-60.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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