1 Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Of all the words in the English language that lift the heart and lighten the soul, few can compare to “forgiveness.” The word evokes thoughts of relief, freedom, and as it relates to eternal salvation, it brings to mind cancellation of the debt of sin provided to those who obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Psalmist’s song demonstrates his appreciation of God’s forgiveness. No matter how challenging life could become, no matter how many friends might forsake him, now matter how harsh his circumstances, he knew that God would redeem him, satisfy his soul and crown his life with lovingkindness and tender mercies.
God’s forgiveness is paramount, not only to our eternal welfare, but also to our success in overcoming life’s troubles. As the writer says in verse ten, “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” The apostle Paul wrote, “There is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10) and “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). Were it not for God’s forgiveness, our struggles with life’s difficulties would be compounded by the burden of sin. There would be nowhere to turn. Paul said in defense of the resurrection of Christ from the dead, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (I Corinthians 15:19). If there is no forgiveness with God, we also have cause to walk through life in misery.
Consider the beautiful simile in verse twelve. If you were to start from where you are right now and travel north, you would go quite a distance and eventually reach the northernmost point of the globe. Upon taking your very next step, you would be heading southward. Were you to continue on this journey to the southernmost point of the globe, your very next step after you reached that point would be northward. On the other hand, were you to start from where you are right now and travel east, you would move in that direction indefinitely. Were you to begin traveling west, you would move in that direction indefinitely. East and west do not meet as north and south do. They are directions that are totally separate from one another. God’s forgiveness causes the sins of one who obeys Him to be totally separated from the soul.
In verses fourteen through sixteen the writer reminds us of the brevity of life. Notice how he immediately follows that fact with the truth regarding the everlasting mercy of God toward them who fear and obey Him. Indeed, this God is eminently worthy of the multiple exhortations the Psalmist gives to “bless” (speak well of) the Lord.
While we’re on the subject of forgiveness as it relates to comfort, let’s briefly consider two other points. In both of these matters about to be discussed, if forgiveness does not take place, sorrow will swell and comfort will not come.
The first point is in regard to the need for each of us to forgive one another. Grudge-holding is a weighty burden that can rob a person of joy and peace. In Matthew 18:23-35 Jesus told a parable of two servants. One owed a great debt to his master. He begged for relief of the debt and his plea was granted. The other servant owed a small debt to the first servant. The first servant would not forgive that small debt. He had forgotten what his master had done for him. Jesus said, “And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormenters, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” (Matthew 18:34-35). If we are the recipients of God’s forgiveness, should we not be as generous with our forgiveness of others? “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32). True comfort can never come to the heart of one who is unwilling to forgive. How well I remember standing beside the hospital bed of an elderly lady who had spent years nursing a grudge against a family member. Over and over again she quietly repeated, “God forgive me. God forgive me.” She desperately sought the forgiveness that she herself had refused to grant for such a long time.
The second point concerns the need to forgive ourselves. One of the torments we suffer in the midst of life’s difficulties is that of blaming ourselves for everything that has happened. Granted, sometimes our circumstances can be the result of our actions or lack of action. Even in those instances, if we seek God’s forgiveness according to His will and He forgives us, we still need to learn how to forgive ourselves. What I’m talking about here though is the danger of constantly beating ourselves up regarding the difficulty in which we find ourselves. Anyone who has lost a loved one understands this. We all play “what if” in our minds until it nearly overwhelms us. It doesn’t end the day of or even the week after the loved one’s death either. Weeks, months, perhaps years later we might find ourselves questioning our decisions, wondering how things could have been different, tearing ourselves up emotionally over something over which, in reality, we had little or no control. We can’t change the past. Why abuse our hearts with constant repetition of scenarios that never will happen?
Seeking forgiveness, extending forgiveness and accepting forgiveness form a magnificent triumvirate of comfort. When one knows that he or she is forgiven, there is nothing that can keep that person in despair.
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