By Sigrid Fowler
All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
To say that sin is an unfashionable topic is to state the obvious . . . and risk losing any readers around. But last week as I was thinking about sin, I was also reading Psalm 103. It happened to turn up just then in the Daily Office Lectionary. Thoroughly relevant! I decided to put it on the back burner, as it were, and revisit David’s words this week. The psalm is like a victory shout and says quite a lot about sin. But to have a complete appreciation of David’s rapturous praise requires us to take a clear-eyed look at the whole topic of sin.
We all know that Israel worshiped God through animal sacrifice. This is a biblical and historic fact. God gave the instructions in minute detail. If you want some understanding of all this or need a reminder, read the end of Exodus and all of Leviticus. Leviticus 17:11 says, “The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I [says Israel’s God] have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls.” No need to add that sin is the topic. Ever since the Garden, humans have lived in that context. Don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise. And God is the one who defines what sin is. The writer of Hebrews speaks of “the one with whom we have to do” (Heb 4:12), as the King James scholars put it—or as follows: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it pierces even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight; everything is uncovered and exposed before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb 4: 12-13, Berean Study Bible).
In other words, God hasn’t left us to wonder how we’ve offended him. His Book tells us—in examples from the community of Israel and in the lives of individuals. John’s first letter puts it succinctly: “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2: 16-17, ESV). John isn’t faulting a thirsty man for wanting water or a loving mother when she wants the best for her children. The Greek word for “desires” is èpithumía, and it means “craving, longing, desire for what is forbidden, lust.” The phrase “pride of life” is even more emphatic. “Pride” is the English translation for àlazoneía, “an insolent and empty assurance, which trusts in its own power and resources and shamefully despises and violates divine laws and human rights, an impious and empty presumption which trusts in the stability of earthly things,” says the Greek dictionary. Notice the parallels to Genesis 3—all the things going on between Eve, the serpent, and Adam. John’s not talking about being proud of a job well done or the desire for food after a hard day’s work. This basic, biblical view of sin is something else, and we all know what John is talking about.
But what is David talking about, singing about? He is as focused on sin as John, and when he develops his point, we see the heart of God: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; / And all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, / And forget not all his benefits. Who forgives all your iniquities, / Who heals all your diseases, / Who redeems your life from destruction, / And crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (Ps 103:1-4). David is just beginning his rapturous assertion of who God is: “The Lord is gracious, / Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. / He will not always strive with us, / Nor will he keep his anger forever. / He has not dealt with us according to our sins, / Nor punished us according to our iniquities. / For as the heavens are high above the earth, / So great is his mercy toward those who fear him; / As far as the east is from the west, / So far has he removed our transgressions from us. / As a father pities his children, / So the Lord pities those who fear him” (Ps 103: 8-13).
Sin is a given but not the bottom line. Spend some time in faith at the foot of the cross and you’ll see. No one has robbed Jesus Christ of that bottom line or the final word. The last word was his: “It is finished!” (John 19: 30). Remember: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1: 9).