With you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. Psalm 130:4
The man writing this psalm is in deep trouble. “Out of the depths [yes, that deep] I cry to you,” he says to God at the beginning.
He sees himself as a drowning man. The waves are coming over him, and he is floundering helplessly. He is about to go under.
He doesn’t tell us in so many words what these “depths” are, but it seems pretty clear that he is badly conscience-stricken. His cry is a cry for “mercy” (verse 2), suggesting that he feels himself seriously in the wrong with God. And in verse 3 he asks the striking question “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?”
Who indeed? The thought of a piece of paper - a very, very long piece of paper in my case! - filed away in the heavenly archives, which logs every bad thought, word or deed of which I have ever been guilty, is, to put it mildly, alarming.
But verse 4 makes it plain that he has made a great discovery: “with you there is forgiveness.” The whole gospel is summed up in those five words. The word “gospel” simply means “good news”, and could there be better news than that God loves to forgive us for all the wrongs we have done? Of course, living, as we do, after rather than before Christ and his cross, we know far more about how that forgiveness is made available for us. But in essence the message is the same.
Have you yet made the discovery the psalmist has made? If you haven’t, it probably means one of two things.
First, you may be refusing to accept the truth about yourself. You are stubbornly insisting “I’m all right!” and drowning out the voice of conscience by all the routine activities of life. But that voice will eventually insist on being heard. So why not save time, not to mention a lot of pain and stress, by facing facts now? What a relief that will bring!
Second, you may be struggling through life with that great load on your conscience - floundering, like the psalmist, in the depths of guilt. In which case I can only assume you have never heard this good news, or possibly heard it but never really understood it.
And that means it’s my privilege to tell you today. I encourage you to close your eyes and slowly, quietly absorb this great but simple truth: with God there really is forgiveness - for you, for me and for everyone who cries out to God. It really is that simple and that wonderful.
When you receive God’s forgiveness it is the biggest turning-point you ever experience in your life. Everything changes; everything becomes new; everything becomes charged with a new, deep, rich meaning. To use New Testament language, we are “born again” (John 3:3), we are “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
I think that’s why the psalmist adds that second line: “therefore you are feared”. He doesn’t mean that we fear God in the sense of being scared of him. It means that we experience a sense of awe and wonder when we think about him and the price he paid, through the cross, to make forgiveness possible.
We suddenly realise that this is serious stuff! Life and death matter; right and wrong matter, good and bad matter. It matters what kind of people we are and what kind of lives we live. The way we conduct our relationships, the way we go about our work, the way we react to injustices inflicted on others, the way we organise our priorities - these things matter.
I like to put it like this: forgiveness is a free gift - but forgiveness is not a freebie.
A freebie is a something for nothing - in essence, a cheap, gimmicky way of attracting our interest or support. But God’s forgiveness isn’t like that: it is costly beyond calculation, but the wonderful thing is that the cost is borne on our behalf by God himself in the person of Jesus.
And that gives us a whole new perspective on life; in a world of shallowness and triviality we become deeply serious people. That doesn’t mean we can’t laugh and enjoy ourselves: no, serious is the word, not solemn, and there’s a big difference between the two.
Is it time you shared the joy of the man in the psalm? The joy of sins forgiven? The drive and purpose that come from living in “the fear of the Lord”?
Father God, thank you for the free gift of your grace shown to us in Jesus. Help me to live the life of a person set free to be all that you desire - ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. Amen.