Wow! It has been almost four years since I have added to this little personal blog series! Well, today I will break that drought.
As Passover season approaches, I am reminded that one of the things I enjoy most about being a pastor is counseling others for baptism. Given the continual growth of God’s Work, it has been a fairly constant presence in the work i get to do over the last several years, and I enjoy it for obvious reasons, of course. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing someone being brought into a relationship with Jesus Christ that will last eternity? (Raise your hands, please. None? OK, good.) But another aspect of such counseling is that it keeps fresh in my mind some of the beautiful truths that are really the cornerstone of that relationship and of our faith. One such truth is expressed by David at the beginning of his prayer of repentance concerning his sin in the matter of Uriah and Bathsheba:
Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
It might seem like an odd choice, and–even given my thinking here–I could see other choices taking the place of this one, but I always come back here when these thoughts enter my mind.
What the passage reminds me of is a beautiful truth: That the source of the forgiveness available to me is not my own attempts at goodness, my own strength, my own righteousness, my own character. Rather, the forgiveness extended to me is grounded in God’s lovingkindness. It is grounded in the multitude of His tender mercies.
David’s wisdom here is the realization there is nothing in Him on which forgiveness could really be founded. Surely reflecting on the previous 9-months-or-so emphasized that to him. How many times, perhaps, during that time did he go to God and ask for forgiveness because he would do better in the future, or because he had done so much better in the past before this “slip up”? We can’t know (until we can ask him directly, of course). but here he makes it clear: His basis for being forgiven is not his own potential to be good, but is founded on God’s own goodness and mercy–a foundation with depth and strength and solidity that goes beyond comprehension. David recognizes that he can’t truly make up for his sins. He can’t “reverse” his adultery. He can’t bring Uriah back into the world of the living. He can’t clean the stains his actions have smeared on his heart and on his character. There is nothing that he has done that he can truly undo.
I’ve felt that way. If you’re a Christian, you surely have, too. There are those times when it is hard to ask for forgiveness again. Times when I want to take the edge off of the sting of my guilt by imagining that my repentance and desire to change is somehow a worthwhile “trade” for God’s forgiveness. Repentance is necessary, to be sure. To imagine that a request for forgiveness is sincere when there is no desire to actually change or do differently is to indulge in self-destructive delusion. Paul makes that pretty clear in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11.
But to think that our necessary repentance and obedience somehow “earns” our forgiveness would be a delusion of another sort. And it is that realization that gets me at times. The idea when I am asking for forgiveness that I have nothing of enough value to somehow trade to gain that forgiveness. And yet I need that forgiveness. I need to be made right with my Creator.
And, thus, Psalm 51. However confused he may have been up to that point, he knew: The only basis for forgiveness available to him was God’s own goodness and mercy. He sought forgiveness not in any way “earned” because he planned to “do better next time”–a desire he surely had–but, rather, it was available because that the the amazing sort of God he had. His Creator was one of astonishing lovingkindness. One whose tender mercies were beyond counting.
What a comfort that has been to me–a comfort too wonderful at times for me, and one I understand that I can’t fully grasp. It has been a comfort to know that when I ask for forgiveness, I am asking one who loves me beyond measure. I am asking to drink from a well of mercy, the depths of which no man has ever imagined and which no measuring line could ever fully plumb. It is something that comforts and reassures in a way I cannot fully describe, but for which I am thankful.
Signing our hymn based on Psalm 51, “In Thy Loving Kindness Lord,” after the Passover service every year, as we do in our area, seems such a fitting thing to do. That lovingkindness, that multitude of tender mercies extended to ones such as you and me, found corporeal expression in the life and death of Jesus Christ– a life He lived for us and a death He died for us. And it continues to be expressed in the life He lives now — a lovingkindness and a tender mercy that doesn’t stop at seeing that I am forgiven for the things I have done, but that continues on further, seeking to rescue me fully and utterly from those things. A lovingkindness and a tender mercy that seeks not only to free me from the grip of my sins but to take me far from them, far beyond their reach, where they will never be able to touch me again, forever.
Knowing that the ground of my forgiveness is not rooted, truly, in my own goodness but is rooted in His is something too wonderful for me. And I hope it is a part of all of our meditations as Passover approaches.
Again, it’s been a long time since I have visited this little thread! Here are pass posts for those with a little time on their hands: