“If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O LORD, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared.”
~Psalm 130:3-4 (NIV).
Why on earth would we fear God for forgiving us? It’s a very good question. Perhaps it’s easiest asking how we’ve felt whenever we’ve been forgiven by someone (if that’s occurred to you). Picturing this right now, in the first person, there’s firstly the sense that what is undeserved—the forgiving act—is coming my way; they’re choosing to trust me again, no strings attached, notwithstanding what I’ve done to them; they’re showing compassion to me. It’s a pure loving compassion. And my response? Respect, undying respect. This is a reverent, positive, loving fear.
And this is the edge to fear, I think, that the psalmist is talking about. How wonderful that the Creator of the universe and of life as we know it—in his utmost holiness—can even stomach me and my sinfulness. He tolerates and forgives over and over again, and we especially feel his forgiveness when we’ve come to understand the hurts we’ve caused. His forgiveness facilitates our own self-forgiveness which in turn gives us courage to seek forgiveness of others. Convoluted, I know, but God is central to forgiveness transactions—whether accounted that way or not.
Forgiveness is shrouded in mystery, assuming respect, because it is so rare in this world. When we’ve experienced this forgiveness of God—his grace—we are transformed into his loyal servants more and more. We wait on him without pressing—more patiently perhaps even than a watchman through the night would (v. 6). Our thinking and viewpoints are being transformed, enlivened, spiritually-awakened.
In this way, forgiveness is the experience of an undeserved favour, and the forgiven want to return the favour ordinarily. That’s love and respect; it’s a positively rooted fear wanting the very best for the relationship as far as it depends on them.
‘Full redemption’ is the mode of forgiveness, knowing that whatever heinous and grievous sins we’ve been party to, he is there, willing to forgive at the moment we require; the very moment our souls dare to ask—but daring is not the point. The act of redemption is “vouchsafed,” a solemn guarantee.
God’s forgiving heart never changes. He is yesterday as he is today as he will be tomorrow (Heb. 13:8).
This Song of Ascents is a song of hope; a lament psalm inspiring trust because of the holy and most trustworthy nature of God. The experience of his forgiveness is tantamount to the miraculous. He is with you; for you, not against you.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.