Does guilt sometimes weigh heavily on you? Are you ever burdened about things you have done or not done, longing to know if God really does forgive you? Perhaps you know in your head that God forgives you, but your head has yet to notify your heart. Renowned psychiatrist Karl Menninger said that if patients in psychiatric hospitals could be convinced that they are really forgiven, 75% of patients could walk out of the hospitals the next day. As a pastor and chaplain, I talk frequently with people longing for reassurance that God really does forgive them of all their sins.
A scripture that has helped me and many others come to assurance about God’s free and full forgiveness is Psalm 130:3-4:
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
LORD, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may revered.
Notice that the psalmist, like so many of us, knows what it is to struggle with guilt, longing to know God’s forgiveness of all sins. The psalmist imagines the dreaded thought that if God “should mark iniquities…who could stand?” The Hebrew word shamar, translated “mark”, has the root idea of guarding or keeping close watch. It was used of the vigilance, the watchfulness of a guard keeping watch over a city. Thankfully, the psalmist has come to know that God does not mark or keep track of our sins. God is nothing like Santa Claus, making his list of who has been naughty or nice. Or else, with our sins, who could “stand” before God?
The Hebrew word translated “stand” (amad) was a legal word straight out of the Hebrew law courts meaning, “to stand acquitted before a judge.” It is to be declared “Not guilty!” “Set free!” Rather than cowering in guilt before holy God, the sinner stands boldly before the Father with head held high. That is because “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
The psalmist is assured and wants to reassure that “there is forgiveness” with God. His remarkable Hebrew word, selichah, translated “forgiveness”, is used in Scripture only for God’s forgiveness and never for human forgiveness. That is because God forgives in ways infinitely beyond the way we humans forgive. This incomparable and unparalleled “God-kind-of-forgiveness” is embodied in a dying Savior praying for His torturers: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). God forgives like no one else can forgive so that “as far as the east is from the west, so far God removes our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
The psalmist reminds us that it is because of God’s extravagant forgiveness that He is “revered” or held in awe. God does not seek to win our worship by frightening or shaming us, but by so freely forgiving us. Whatever our sins, we can boldly say with the psalmist, “But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may revered.” The more we realize God’s forgiveness of us the more we revere and love Him.
Jesus puts His finger on this truth in His Parable of the Two Debtors (Luke 7:36-50). There, Jesus shows that the one who is forgiven the most loves God the most. So, we love and revere God for taking away all of our guilt. Our head has notified our heart!
Name and reflect on the thoughts and feelings today’s reading stirs in you. Take a few moments to talk with God about them.