Psalm 65 is a beautiful expression of God’s great power and our dependence upon Him. But it is more than that. It is also the description of the experience of one who is living in a restored relationship with God. One of its main features is the obvious sense of joy that belongs to the writer (David), and, by implication, to the person who has found home in God. There are at least five mentions of the word, “joy.” All in all, the Psalm seems to trip over itself in trying to find ways to talk about God’s greatness and the blessing of living in a positive relationship with Him.
The Psalm also hi-lights various theological themes including God’s creative and sustaining power, His providence and calling to salvation (election), His faithfulness and willingness to answer prayer, as well as His absolute forgivenss and glorious salvation for sinners. I was particularly struck by one expression in the Psalm that got me thinking deeply. It comes in verse 3 where the writer says, “Though our hearts are filled with sins, you forgive them all” (NLT).
In itself this is an absolutely incredible statement of the nature of people’s disposition with God considering the depth of our offences and His mighty power to do whatever He chooses. To think that I can live in a relationship with God in which He doesn’t remember or hold my offenses against Him is overwhelmingly awesome! That is what heaven is all about — living in perfect fellowship or friendship with God forever. And we don’t even have to wait to get there in order to experience it!
But the expression here in Psalm 65 began to raise important questions in my mind about how God is able to do this. Commonly, people wonder why it is so difficult for God to forgive sin — after all, doesn’t He have the power to do as He wills and wishes? Can’t He just simply and automatically write a forgiveness cheque for everyone? Why is it such a big deal for God to forgive us our sins?
This series of questions began a bit of an academic search in my mind about the nature of forgiveness and how it works. I came to the conclusion that anyone who thinks this is a simple matter is not aware of the significance of offense toward God (or anyone else for that matter). When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden and plunged the world into the darkness of that curse, the depth of offense toward God was far greater than we could ever imagine. It meant that at the very pinnacle of God’s amazing creation, His moral universe had come to experience a huge imperfection reflecting on His decrees, His very nature, and His character. At the time it seemed like a huge victory for the subtle and sleezy Satan! The dirty rotter had effectively introduced a serious imperfection in God’s world. And death itself was the only consequence for God’s creation. I think it’s important to understand that it couldn’t be otherwise.
Sin can never happen without terrible consequence even on a human level. We experience this all the time. Sin means something is broken and can’t continue as it was. Sin means serious offense has taken place, character has been impugned, moral evil has entered into a relationship. And fixing it can never occur without some measue of significant cost. We can never extend forgiveness to anyone without having to bear the cost of the offense in some way. That’s what makes forgiveness so valuable when it is genuinely given.
God couldn’t just say we were forgiven without paying a huge price. It was either our own death for the seriousness of the offense, or the death of someone else. And you probably know the story of God’s initiative in the matter. Eventually His own Son, Jesus Christ, the only perfect person who ever lived in a human body, came and allowed Himself to be sacrificed in death, as the satisfaction of God’s necessary requirement for sin’s payment. In the death of Christ on the cross, God’s perfect moral law and justice was upheld and vindicated. It couldn’t have been done otherwise. But it involved a huge price on God’s part — far more than the human mind can ever really appreciate. In the cross of Christ, God’s love and mercy met His perfect standard of truth. It was an amazing plan for the redemption or salvation of what had been lost in the Garden!
Realizing what God did and what it cost Him can’t help but give a person like me a new appreciation for the forgiveness that He extends to the likes of me or anyone else. God’s forgiveness is absolute and I can rejoice in that but it was not without huge cost on God’s part. Evidently we meant so much to Him that He was willing to make the sacrifice. Wow! On the other hand it it is important to realize that this forgiveness is not extended automatically to everyone in the world (“universely”). God’s one requirement for forgiveness to the point of reconciliation and restoration to friendship with Him is that we are willing to acknowledge what He has done through recognizing the significance of Jesus (John 5:23). God’s forgiveness can’t become a reality in our lives unless we understand and respond to God’s initiative. That’s why we need to tell the Good News to everyone who will listen. Because a person’s forgiveness is not complete or a reality until he or she has understood and received it.
One of the best gifts this Labour Day weekend is the knowledge that I am absolutely forgiven by God and can live in a perfect relationship with Him. Psalm 65 is my song, just as it was David’s.