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Sunday, February 15, 2009

“You, O Jehovah, are good and ready to forgive.”

“You, O Jehovah, are good and ready to forgive.”—PSALM 86:5.

KING DAVID of ancient Israel knew how heavy the burden of a guilty conscience could be. He wrote: “My own errors have passed over my head; like a heavy load they are too heavy for me. I have grown numb and become crushed to an extreme degree; I have roared due to the groaning of my heart.” (Psalm 38:4, 8) David, however, found comfort for his troubled heart. He knew that while Jehovah hates sin, he does not hate the sinner—if that one is truly repentant and rejects his sinful course. (Psalm 32:5; 103:3) With full faith in Jehovah’s willingness to extend mercy to repentant ones, David said: “You, O Jehovah, are good and ready to forgive.”—Psalm 86:5.

When we sin, we too may carry the crushing burden of a painful conscience as a result. This feeling of remorse is normal, even healthy. It can move us to take positive steps to correct our mistakes. Some Christians, though, have become overwhelmed by guilt. Their self-condemning heart might insist that God will not fully forgive them, no matter how repentant they are. “It is a terrible feeling when you think that Jehovah may not love you anymore,” said one sister, reflecting on a mistake she had made. Even after she repented and accepted helpful counsel from congregation elders, she continued to feel unworthy of God’s forgiveness. She explains: “Not a day passes by when I don’t ask Jehovah for his forgiveness.” If we become “swallowed up” by guilt, Satan may try to get us to give up, to feel that we are not worthy of serving Jehovah.—2 Corinthians 2:5-7, 11.

But that is not at all how Jehovah views matters! His Word assures us that when we manifest genuine heartfelt repentance, Jehovah is willing, yes ready, to forgive. (Proverbs 28:13) So if God’s forgiveness has ever seemed unattainable to you, perhaps what is needed is a better understanding of why and how he forgives.
Why Is Jehovah “Ready to Forgive”?

We read: “As far off as the sunrise is from the sunset, so far off from us he has put our transgressions. As a father shows mercy to his sons, Jehovah has shown mercy to those fearing him.” Why is Jehovah disposed to show mercy? The next verse answers: “For he himself well knows the formation of us, remembering that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:12-14) Yes, Jehovah does not forget that we are creatures of dust, having frailties, or weaknesses, as a result of imperfection. The expression that he knows “the formation of us” reminds us that the Bible likens Jehovah to a potter and us to the vessels he forms. (Jeremiah 18:2-6) A potter handles his clay vessels firmly yet delicately, ever mindful of their nature. So, too, Jehovah, the Great Potter, tempers his dealings with us according to the frailty of our sinful nature.—Compare 2 Corinthians 4:7.

Jehovah understands how powerful sin is. The Scriptures describe sin as a potent force that has man in its deadly grip. Just how strong is sin’s grasp? In the book of Romans, the inspired apostle Paul explains this in graphic terms: We are “under sin,” as soldiers are under their commander (Romans 3:9); it has “ruled” over mankind like a king (Romans 5:21); it “resides,” or is “dwelling,” within us (Romans 7:17, 20); its “law” is continually at work in us, in effect trying to control our course. (Romans 7:23, 25) What a difficult battle we have to resist sin’s powerful hold on our fallen flesh!—Romans 7:21, 24.

Hence, our merciful God knows that perfect obedience is not possible for us, no matter how much our hearts may want to give it to him. (1 Kings 8:46) He lovingly assures us that when we seek his fatherly mercy with a contrite heart, he will extend forgiveness. The psalmist David said: “The sacrifices to God are a broken spirit; a heart broken and crushed, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17) Jehovah will never reject, or turn away, a heart that is broken and crushed by the burden of guilt. How beautifully that describes Jehovah’s readiness to forgive!

Does this mean, though, that we can presume on God’s mercy, using our sinful nature as an excuse to sin? By no means! Jehovah is not guided by mere sentiment. His mercy has limits. He will by no means forgive those who hard-heartedly practice malicious, willful sin with no repentance. (Hebrews 10:26-31) On the other hand, when he sees a heart that is “broken and crushed,” he is “ready to forgive.” (Proverbs 17:3) Let us consider some of the expressive language used in the Bible to describe the completeness of divine forgiveness.

How Completely Does Jehovah Forgive?

Repentant King David said: “My sin I finally confessed to you, and my error I did not cover. I said: ‘I shall make confession over my transgressions to Jehovah.’ And you yourself pardoned the error of my sins.” (Psalm 32:5) The expression “pardoned” translates a Hebrew word that basically means “lift up,” “bear, carry.” Its use here signifies ‘to take away guilt, iniquity, transgression.’ So Jehovah lifted up David’s sins and carried them away, as it were. (Compare Leviticus 16:20-22.) This no doubt eased the feelings of guilt that David had been carrying. (Compare Psalm 32:3.) We too can have full confidence in the God who pardons the sins of those who seek his forgiveness on the basis of their faith in the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 20:28; compare Isaiah 53:12.) Those whose sins Jehovah thus lifts up and carries away need not continue to carry the burden of guilt feelings for past sins.

Jesus drew on the relationship of creditors and debtors to illustrate how Jehovah forgives. For example, Jesus urged us to pray: “Forgive us our debts.” (Matthew 6:12) Jesus thus likened “sins” to “debts.” (Luke 11:4) When we sin, we become “debtors” to Jehovah. The Greek verb translated “forgive” can mean “to let go, give up, a debt, by not demanding it.” In a sense, when Jehovah forgives, he cancels the debt that would otherwise be charged against our account. Repentant sinners can thus take comfort. Jehovah will never demand payment for a debt he has canceled!—Psalm 32:1, 2; compare Matthew 18:23-35.

At Acts 3:19, the Bible uses another vivid figure of speech to describe God’s forgiveness: “Repent, therefore, and turn around so as to get your sins blotted out.” The phrase ‘get blotted out’ translates a Greek verb that, when used metaphorically, can mean “to wipe out, obliterate, cancel or destroy.” According to some scholars, the image expressed is that of erasing handwriting. How was this possible? The ink commonly used in ancient times was made of a mixture that included carbon, gum, and water. Soon after working with such ink, a person could take a wet sponge and wipe the writing away.

Therein is a beautiful picture of the completeness of Jehovah’s forgiveness. When he forgives our sins, it is as though he takes a sponge and wipes them away. We need not fear that he will hold such sins against us in the future, for the Bible reveals something else about Jehovah’s mercy that is truly remarkable: When he forgives, he forgets!

- Published by the WTB&TS in 1998

Can Anything “Separate Us From God’s Love”?

WHO of us does not need to be loved? Indeed, we thrive when we feel loved by family and friends. Sadly, though, human relationships can be very fragile and uncertain. Loved ones may hurt us, abandon us, or even reject us. Yet, there is someone whose love is unfailing. The love that Jehovah God has for his worshippers is beautifully described at Romans 8:38, 39.

“I am convinced,” says the apostle Paul. Convinced of what? That nothing can “separate us from God’s love.” Paul speaks not just for himself but also for “us”—that is, for all who serve God loyally. To emphasize his point, Paul lists a number of things that cannot prevent Jehovah’s love from reaching his devoted servants.

“Neither death nor life.” Jehovah’s love for his people does not cease when they die. In proof of his love, God keeps such ones in his memory, and he will restore them to life in the righteous new world to come. (John 5:28, 29; Revelation 21:3, 4) Meanwhile, God’s love for his loyal worshippers remains constant no matter what life in this system of things may bring them.

“Nor angels nor governments.” Humans can be susceptible to the influence of powerful individuals or authorities, but not so with Jehovah. Mighty spirit creatures, such as the angel who became Satan, cannot persuade God to stop loving his worshippers. (Revelation 12:10) Neither can governments, which may oppose true Christians, alter God’s view of his servants.—1 Corinthians 4:13.

“Nor things now here nor things to come.” God’s love does not fade with time. There is nothing that can come upon his servants now or in the future that will cause God to stop loving them.

“Nor powers.” Paul has referred to heavenly and earthly forces—“angels” and “governments”—but now he mentions “powers.” The Greek word used here is broad in meaning. Whatever the precise meaning, one thing is certain: No power in heaven or on earth can keep Jehovah’s love from reaching his people.

“Nor height nor depth.” Jehovah loves his people regardless of the circumstances—high or low—in which they find themselves.

“Nor any other creation.” With these all-inclusive words, Paul is saying that absolutely nothing can separate loyal worshippers from Jehovah’s love.

Unlike the love of a human, which can change or fade, God’s love for those who keep looking to him in faith is unalterable; it is everlasting. Knowing this surely moves us to draw closer to Jehovah and to try our best to prove our love for him.

- August 1, 2008 Watchtower, WTB&TS