As Far as the East is from the West

Pastor Michael Bowman

“The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:8-14)

In order to understand forgiveness we have to define it, and in order to define it we have to start with the character and work of God. In order to do that, let’s begin by looking at what God has revealed about his character that informs our definition of forgiveness. We will start in Psalm 103. This Psalm begins and ends with the phrase, “Bless the LORD O my soul.” The whole goal of the Psalm is to draw the reader into worship, blessing the LORD. Toward that end, vs. 2 says, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” What is the first benefit mentioned? “Who forgives all your iniquities.” Praise the Lord because he forgives! This Psalm expands on the forgiving character of God, and I want to bring your attention to a few of the things that are mentioned. 

First, God’s forgiveness flows out of his character. “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.” This is echoing the way in which God revealed himself to Moses in Exodus 34. In this passage, before proclaiming these things, it says that literally God was proclaiming his name. This is God’s name. In other words, these words define the very nature of who he is. God is not defined primarily by his anger, wrath, displeasure or disappointment. He has defined himself primarily by his mercy, grace and love. In that way, his forgiveness flows out of his love. Love here is not the sentimental, nice feelings that we often think of, rather it is the beneficial action done on behalf of it’s object. 

Second, his forgiveness means he doesn’t treat us as we deserve. “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” Our nature leads us to want to get people back when they have wronged us, to give them what they deserve. This isn’t how God has treated us. He doesn’t treat us as we deserve, and what a glorious truth that is. God does not love us because we have earned it, he doesn’t forgive us because we are entitled to that forgiveness. It flows out of his character, not ours, out of his grace and mercy, not our goodness. 

Third, in his loving forgiveness, he has removed our transgressions from us. “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” For those who fear the LORD and are the object of his redeeming love, sin is not the defining feature of who they are. He has done away with it. Though they have transgressed his Law, he has removed the sins from them. It’s not that your transgressions have been taken down the road a short way and are bound to find their way back to you.  No, they have been removed “as far as the east is from the west.” As far as far is, as distant as it is possible to move them, so has he done for those he loves. You don’t have to live in fear thinking your sins might find you out and dominate you once again. They are never coming back. 

Fourth and finally, his forgiveness flows out of his Fatherhood. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” A good father doesn’t allow sin to define his relationship to his child. It’s not that he is passive in the presence of sin. He does deal with it, but he does so always out of compassion. That is how God deals with you who are in Christ. He knows your weaknesses, he knows your brokenness, he knows your finitude. As a good Father, he does not let your sin destroy you or your relationship with him. He deals with it, removing it from you, forgiving you for all of it. These glorious truths lead to one response, “Bless the LORD, O my soul!”