During his life, the psalmist David experienced a wide range of circumstances. Like those suffering today in Ukraine, he knew what it was like to be displaced, pursued, surrounded, and threatened. And he also knew the immediate benefits of being a war hero and a king. But in Psalm 103 David chooses to speak well of God by shifting his perspective beyond that of his own personal timeline to those things that transcend this earthly life. As finite beings it is difficult for us to focus on things beyond our own experience, but when we do, we can join with David in thanksgiving for those things that are true for all believers in all circumstances.
How does David’s perspective in Psalm 103 affect the way we view God’s blessings? Are His benefits to be found only in what we see during our days on this earth? It is easy to become frustrated that God does not seem to have the same sense of urgency that we do. Sometimes it appears to us that He is not active at all. As Christians, we know that God loves us, and that He sent Jesus to die on the cross for us, but that was long ago and so when He seems inactive in our personal or national suffering we ask, “What has He done for us lately?”
Welling up in praise to the Lord David writes,
To “bless the Lord” is to speak well of Him, to praise Him in thanksgiving for the things He has done. Throughout the remainder of the Psalm, David lists the benefits he is referring to. Surprisingly, he does not praise the Lord for his current circumstances. Nearly all of David’s praise is directed at God’s work that takes place well outside of his own personal timeline. Although he could have, David does not thank God for his food, material wealth, family, or kingdom. Instead he looks at the much bigger picture and praises the God who “forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit . . .” Later he magnifies God for “righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed” and for making His ways known to Moses. In verses 11-12 he beautifully writes that, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.“ David spoke of all of these things in the present tense as if they had already happened.
Think about this for a minute. How could David claim that God would forgive all of his iniquity? The sacrificial system was inadequate to pay that debt and David certainly could not earn his way into God’s favor by doing good works. We know that the justice of God requires payment for sin so by what mechanism can David imagine that his sin could be forgiven? The answer is that David was looking forward to a coming Messiah and Savior who was able to pay the debt for all iniquity, for all time, in all places, and for all people who have faith in Him. He was praising God for an event that he could not even fully articulate because it was yet to come. The same is true when he speaks of healing all diseases and justice for all the oppressed. That did not happen during his lifetime and it may not happen during ours. But we can join with David in looking to a faithful God who stands outside of time holding the entirety of history in the palm of His hand. Just as David looked forward to a coming Savior, we can look forward to a coming heavenly kingdom in which all wrongs will be made right, wars and suffering will cease, and all sickness will be made well. It has not happened yet, but because God’s words are His actions we can praise Him for it today. If we follow David’s example we can even speak of it in the present tense.
As for a man, his days are like grass . . . the wind passes over it and it is gone . . . but the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlastingPsalm 103:15-17
Human beings are limited by time and space. We are finite. We struggle to see beyond our own days. Because God sees every moment of history at once His work is always in the present. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the only eternal One. He is not constrained by time the way we are. David, inspired by the Spirit, seemed to realize that and spoke of God’s future blessings as current events. He sees future things as real and relevant in his daily life of praise. His praise reaches beyond the current moment to the eternal blessings we enjoy in Christ. As he looked forward to the cross, we can look back on the cross, and sing praise together in the present for that one moment in history that redeemed every other moment.
As a body of Christian believers some of us may have material blessings in the here and now and it is right to praise God for those things. But many in the body do not enjoy such comforts. Our brothers and sisters in Ukraine can bear witness to that today. And countless Christians throughout history have lived very meager lives. But all Christians can sing the praises of Psalm 103 as we all have access to the very same benefits that David wrote about no matter when or where we live. We can all sing about rescue from the pit, justice for the oppressed, forgiveness of all iniquity, compassion of the Father, and the steadfast love of the Lord.
Continue to pray for those suffering in Ukraine and elsewhere around the world and trust the One whose Kingdom, “rules over all” that He will be faithful to keep His word and His steadfast love forever to all who fear Him.