I can't count the times in my life I have cried out to God for forgiveness. A depressingly high number. I have lived with an awareness of the depth of my propensity toward sin, and I have sought to be set free from it.
Yet, I have never felt a sense of complete release. It's like God was saying to me, "Okay, I'll forgive you this time, but...." Perhaps you know what I'm talking about. I think it's because that's my tendency toward myself: Conditional forgiveness.
Today, I was reading Psalm 51. I've read it many times before, but this time a couple phrases jumped out and smacked me right in the face. How could I have missed that, I thought.
This is a psalm of David, who has just been hammered for his "activities" with Bathsheba, another man's wife. He is repentant, and crying out for forgiveness.
Here's the first verse: "Be gracious to me, O God, according to your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of your compassion blot out my transgressions."
Notice the standard: Not, "Lord, forgive me as I forgive myself." Too small. Way too small.
No, it's, "...according to your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of your compassion...."
Wow! How great is that? What is the limit to God's lovingkindness, his chesed love? Another psalm says it never fails. God's "lovingkindness" is in every place and every time, in every circumstance. We cannot escape it. So as expansive and dependable as is God's love, so is his grace toward us. Limitless.
Then David moves to the "greatness of God's compassion." How great is that? David asks that his sins be wiped from the record not out of compassion, but according to the greatness of God's compassion.
That's much like his covenant love, his lovingkindness: It's without limit. The compassion and lovingkindness of God put Jesus among us, revealing the Father to us so that me might know him, even as we put him to death.
Somehow, my own piddly forgiveness never reassures me. And my tendency to put God on my level is not encouraging. But when I think of his great love and compassion for me - and you - I am greatly encouraged.
God understands. God grieves with us. God forgives freely and thoroughly: wiping the slate clean. Our arrogance, our rebellion, our selfishness, is wiped from the record, and separated from us as far as the east is from the west.
Now that's something to get excited about.