No single force or power in the universe is greater than the power of forgiveness. Nothing sets you free, brings joy, and gives strength like the knowledge that your slate is wiped clean and your past is remembered no more. This grand truth is foundational to Christianity and cannot be overemphasized. Forgiveness is so contrary to our nature, in fact, that we humans need to be constantly reminded that our former deeds are really remembered no more. One Psalm that celebrates forgiveness is the phenomenal anthem of Psalm 103.
The beauty of the Psalms is that we experience so many aspects of a relationship with God through the words of human being just like you and me. In Psalm 38 and Psalm 51, we witnessed the devastating effects of sin on a man’s life; in Psalm 103, we rejoice with David in the glorious liberation he experienced. His exuberance in this psalm is contagious; I cannot read or hear it without feeling a fresh joy welling up inside of me.
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Right from the start, I get the impression that David just cannot hold back this river of joy. Commanding his soul to bless the Lord, he urges himself to remember God’s benefits. That statement caused me to stop in my tracks; I do not frequently come across a Scripture that specifically outlines God’s benefits. Conveniently, David provides us with a list. While it’s not a theologically comprehensive list of all God’s benefits towards believers, its contents are enough to excite even the gravest of sinners:
1. He forgives all your iniquity
2. He heals all your diseases
3. He redeems your life from the pit
4. He crowns you with steadfast love and mercy
5. He satisfies you with good
These truths are so deep and beautiful and all-encompassing! Not only does he forgive my iniquity, he forgives all my iniquity. That means there is no sin so grave that God will not forgive it. David doesn’t stipulate that this pertains only to unintentional sin or sin due to extenuating circumstances. No, God forgives all my iniquities! That is a far-reaching truth that will take me a lifetime to comprehend. For some reason, I have a tendency to hold on to past sins and failures and count them against myself. The thought that somebody would provide a blanket statement that all my sins are forgiveness regardless of circumstances or works done to earn that forgiveness is almost too much to take in – and yet it is the glorious truth the Bible presents me with!
God forgives, He heals, He redeems, He crowns, and He satisfies. These are absolute truths that define the very nature and character of God. They describe how He interacts with us and gives us such hope! Like David, I don’t deserve to be redeemed from the pit I put myself in. I don’t deserve to be crowned with steadfast love and mercy or to be satisfied with good. And yet there it is, that unfailing truth that goes against every natural thought and feeling we have. How deep God’s love truly is, can be seen in the verses that follow:
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
Dealing with people the way they deal with you is a common practice amongst sinners and saints alike. God does not, however, follow that practice. The imagery David uses to describe God’s chesed – His steadfast, covenant love – is breathtaking. Just like the heavens are infinitely high above the earth, God’s love towards those who fear Him is infinite. His forgiveness is not like ours, where past transgressions are brought back up if we repeat them but enough times. No, He casts them away as far as the east is from the west – infinitely far away. God does not remember them, bring them back up, or hold them against us. His love has no end and does not change. What an astounding truth!
Part of what makes God’s love so amazing is the fact that He not only forgives but also shows an amazing understanding for us as human beings:
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
God remembers that we are dust. How comforting it is to know that He knows our frame and realizes we are but human! David realized that God’s love is a covenant love that is not based on our weak frame and our fleeting days. His joy was in the steadfast, covenant love that has no beginning and has no end – a love that is not fleeting like we are but eternal, steadfast, rock-solid, and unmoveable. And for those who fear God, that is a thought as comforting as any that could be conceived throughout history.