A Promise That’s Hard to Believe

Read Psalm 103.

Psalm 103 is difficult for me to take in. If I’m being completely honest, I find it rather hard to swallow whole. There is a promise in these verses that tests my faith more than any other in Scripture. I have no problem fully believing that mountains can be moved (Matthew 21:21), that diseases can be healed (James 5:15), or that all things will turn out for good (Romans 8:28). But my heart is just not ready to accept these words: “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11–12).

These verses are not a problem for my head. I understand them, and I accept them. But it’s my heart they can’t quite penetrate, at least not for long. I’m sure I’m not alone. I’ve met many believers who have a hard time setting aside the guilt and shame of their sin. God has removed it from his view, but they can’t seem to do the same.

I’ve come to believe that getting this verse to nest deep within the heart is one of the goals of the Christian faith. We must walk closely with Jesus and hear his reminders again and again to really believe it’s true. We may lapse, and we may doubt, but we must continue with the struggle. God wants us to be made whole.

When the darkest thoughts fill my mind, I remember Peter. I thank God that Peter’s story is part of redemption history because it shows just how Jesus deals with the sins of the forgiven. Simon Peter had denied Jesus three times and left him to suffer the agony of the cross. In fear and selfishness, the fisherman-turned-disciple acted to save his own skin. Gone were his bold proclamations of dying alongside of his Lord (Matthew 26:35). When Jesus rose from the dead, and he and Peter finally got the chance to talk, how did Jesus address the elephant in the room? He didn’t. He simply welcomed Peter back into friendship, and he commissioned him to be a shepherd of God’s flock (John 21:15–19).[i] He didn’t say a word about Peter’s moral failure. As far as Jesus was concerned, Peter’s sins were removed, “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).

There was no burden of shame for Peter to carry with him throughout his days. There was no period of probation, no demerits, nothing. Peter’s case wasn’t an anomaly either. If you were to rate betrayal of the Son of God on a scale of sinful acts, it’d be up there. So, if Jesus was willing to push Peter’s sins off the map, no strings attached, he is willing to do the same with ours, because “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The good news really is that good. Though we may spend a lifetime exploring the depths of the love of God in the hope of silencing our doubts, the Lord’s grace does not need our permission.

[i] There was, apparently, another meeting between Peter and the resurrected Jesus. Luke mentions it (Luke 24:36), and so does Paul (1 Corinthians 15:5). But nowhere in the New Testament are we offered a description of what took place during their time together. However, in John’s account of the scene on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, it appears that Jesus was thinking specifically of Peter’s three denials, as he commissioned his friend to feed his sheep three times.

This devotional is excerpted from The Ascent: A Devotional Adventure through the Book of Psalms, available here.

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