The Lord is Kind and Merciful, Psalm 103

Let us then live our lives in ways that rejoice in this wisdom.

Some of the Psalms were written before the exile of the Jews in 587 B.C. and some after the exile starting after 539 B.C.. They have been and continue to be a powerful source of prayer for Jews and for Christians today. Some are songs of praise, others of thanksgiving. Some are laments of realized guilt and a recognition of God’s mercy, others express a deep longing for God, and others exalt Zion, the city in which God dwells. They are a rich “school of prayer” for all who wish to develop and lead a life of prayer.

When one becomes familiar with the Psalms, one typically finds a handful to go to in times of spiritual well-being or need. One of the Psalms that speaks so clearly to me about the nature of God is the beautiful Psalm 103. It is David’s extended praise of divine goodness which David personally experienced. In it, we hear David’s outburst of joy and praise to the God who has shown him such great mercy.

It begins with an exuberant statement of joy, “Bless the Lord, my soul: all my being, bless his holy name” (verse 1). Then continues with a short series of gentle admonitions, “…and do not forget all his gifts/ Who pardons all your sins/ and heals all your ills/ Who redeems your life from the pit/ and crowns you with mercy and compassion/ Who fills you your days with good things/ so your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (verses 2-5).

One could spend many hours contemplating each of these admonitions. They are true responses to the real gifts that God gives each one of us daily. We can ask ourselves, “Do I honor God’s gifts, his generous mercy and compassion? Each one of them can be a cause for both awed thanksgiving and joy in us. They express the core realities of the Nature of God.

But the psalm does not stop there. We hear the psalmist continue to praise God expressing how he does righteous deeds and brings true justice, especially to the oppressed. Yes, to the oppressed who know true suffering as the result of human injustices of every kind. But, then, who among us has not felt oppressed by our own guilts, fears, doubts, and failings? These, too, he heals. To believe this is a source of true joy, indeed.

We must not hesitate to go to God in prayer, because we believe, as the psalmist believed, that the Lord is, “Merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.” (verse 8) He does not deal with us in vengeance, as our fellow human beings might. David, the writer of this psalm tells us, “For as heavens tower over the earth, so his mercy towers over those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us.” (verses 11-12). David tells us that the Lord, like a loving father, “has compassion on his children” (v. 13).

David also reminds us in Psalm 103 that God knows us and “how we are formed”, that “we are dust” (v. 14) and that we are, like the grass, here today and gone tomorrow, “but that the Lord’s mercy lasts from age to age toward those who fear him” (v. 17), to those who are “obedient to his command” (v. 20). David then finishes where he began, “Bless the Lord, all his creatures, everywhere in his domain. Bless the Lord, my soul!” (v. 22) So, in these 22 verses, we see the true nature of God in comparison to our fallen nature and we are overwhelmed by his infinite kindness and mercy toward us.

We know that this is the nature of God, because we have seen it in the flesh in Jesus Christ. For Jesus proved God’s love for us in this, “While we were/are still sinners he died for us” (Romans 5:8). Psalm 103 is a powerful prayer through which we may lift our own voices in praise of the God who is infinitely kind and merciful to us. We, too, can sing with joy that his love is eternal, and is never drawn away from us. Let us then live our lives in ways that rejoice in this wisdom. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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