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Forgiven (Psalm 32)

June 08, 2010

Psalm 32:

1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
5 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. . . .

On April 10, 1980, a man wearing a gorilla mask approached a car in a supermarket parking lot. In the car, Helen and Michael Farr were counting the change from their purchase. She laughed when she realized she had two pennies left.

Just as they were about to pull out, the masked man jerked the driver-side door open and demanded, “I want all your money!” Michael reached for his wallet, but the man shot him in the chest. As Helen jumped out of the car and ran into the store for help, she heard a second gunshot.

Michael and Helen had been married for thirty-six years.

Not long after the shooting, police were pretty sure who had done it: a man named Jenkins. But they never were able to get the evidence needed to nail him on the charge. Later, Jenkins was jailed for another crime—and bragged to several fellow inmates about getting away with the Farr murder. One of his accomplices finally came forward to tell authorities what had happened because his conscience had bothered him all these years. He hadn’t been with Jenkins at the time of the shooting, but he knew what had happened.

So after working twenty-eight years on this "cold case," detectives finally were able to bring it to trial. Yet despite the new evidence, it still wasn’t an open-and-shut case. Jenkins pled not guilty.

During the trial in the Franklin County, Ohio, Common Pleas Court, Helen Farr—now a tiny but strong woman of ninety-four and a cousin of mine on my mother’s side—sat in the witness stand and calmly and clearly shared the story of her husband’s murder. She’d never seen the assailant’s face because of the mask, but she recognized his voice when he spoke in court. How? "Because I have lived with that voice for twenty-eight years."

After Helen’s dramatic testimony, the man changed his plea and confessed to voluntary manslaughter. In Judge David Fais’ courtroom, after Jenkins entered his new plea, Helen looked at the man who had murdered her husband and said, "In my Christian spirit, he is forgiven. But Mr. Jenkins will have to go appear before a higher court, a higher judge than Judge Fais, and I hope in the meantime he asks forgiveness of the Lord."

I can’t imagine living life knowing that I had murdered someone—and bragged about it. How can you possibly live with yourself? Even so, there is some hope—the man finally confessed.

Some of the scariest people I’ve come across may not be murderers, but they, like him, don’t seem to give their sins a second thought. They live a hidden life of deception and duplicity, effortlessly covering their tracks, without the slightest wince about how they may be hurting other people, let alone themselves.

God desires that we live openly, honestly, without a shred of deceit. Some people don’t get that. And there have been many times, I confess, that I have fallen into that category.

Like the psalmist, I want to live a life of integrity. I want a heart that is happy, a past that is forgiven, a life that is open, a conscience that is clean. To live otherwise is to live in misery and weakness and guilt. And what kind of life is that?

The psalmist concludes this song:

11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

The righteous and the upright aren’t perfect people. They’re forgiven people. They are honest, authentic people who make their mistakes, problems, fears, and failures known to God and make things right with people they’ve wounded in the process, as best they can. They don’t hide their iniquity; they confess it and they make the matter right. They are glad, and they shout for joy, because they are made clean.

[Adapted from Connected: You and God in the Psalms (Morehouse Publishing, 2009, p. 46-47).]

(Some details from Bruce Cadwallader, “Widow, 94, Clearly Recalls When Husband Was Killed” (April 2, 2008), and “Killer, Braggart Gets 7 to 25 Years” (April 5, 2008), Columbus [Ohio] Dispatch.)

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