Praise the Lord, my soul, and never forget all the good he has done: He is the one who forgives all your sins, the one who heals all your diseases, the one who rescues your life from the pit, the one who crowns you with mercy and compassion, the one who fills your life with blessings so that you become young again like an eagle. – Psalm 103:2-5
There’s a progression in this psalm that begins where most of us end, with the forgiveness of our sins. It’s the one thing we expect, above all others, that God will do for us. It’s the one thing we trust when we aren’t really sure about anything else. When our prayer for the life we live here isn’t answered, somehow, we still hold on to the firm belief that we are forgiven – it’s our ticket to eternity. So it’s no wonder this has become our end-all-be-all in the Christian faith; if nothing else, God has forgiven our sins.
But this psalm shows us a flow in our relationship with God, specifically in how He’s growing us, and the forgiveness of our sins is just His first grace. There are many more to follow, if we’ll keep on pursuing them.
He forgives our sins because that’s the biggest obstacle to our love. If we think ourselves unworthy, we will live unworthy lives. If we question our cleanliness, we’ll be afraid to get our hands dirty touching anything else – or get other things dirty. If we don’t believe there is anything good about us, we’ll be too insecure to do anything good with our lives. So the first thing God does is to forgive us for our sins because they do not define who we are; we are much better than our worst moments.
After we are forgiven, we must be made strong again. We are riddled with weakness as a result of living in a broken world, exhaustion as a consequence of fighting so hard just to keep our heads above water. And as long as we feel weak and tired and run-down, we’re unlikely to actively move toward the world. As long as we’re treading water, we’re never going to swim. We simply can’t be who God desires us to be if we’re sick and tired all the time, so after He forgives us an affirms that we are much better than our worst moments, He heals us to give us the fullness of our strength.
And when we are certain and strong, He pulls us out of all of the muck and mire and sets our feet on solid ground. We have the confidence and the strength to stand on something better, and that’s where He wants us. It wouldn’t work before now – He couldn’t rescue us when we were weak and scared; we’d fall right back in. But now, now we are ready, so He puts our feet under us.
Certain and strong and steady on our feet, He crowns us with mercy and compassion. When we think of the notion of a crown, we think of royalty, and we should. But the king is never crowned for his own sake; he is anointed for the people. The mercy and compassion that He gives us is for others. Having been insecure and weak and tired and stuck – and having been forgiven, healed, and rescued – He now gives us eyes to see the struggles of others and a heart to act gracefully toward them because we understand where they are. It wasn’t too long ago that we were there ourselves.
Then, finally, when we are certain and strong and steady and, let’s call it ‘loving’ with mercy and compassion, He fills our lives with blessings until they overflow and gives us back that little bounce in our step that can only be called freedom and joy.
See, there’s a progression here. Each one builds upon the last until we become in fullness all that God has intended us to be from our very creation. And forgiveness of our sins, the central axis of so much of modern Christianity, isn’t where we end; it’s where we begin. He grows us from there, if we’re willing to keep pursuing Him.