Psalm 103: 8-14.

I am going to be looking at verses 8 to14 in particular this morning. As I do so the themes Dr Dawes identified as having an overarching presence in the Old Testament, steadfast love and mercy, righteousness and justice spring to mind.

 

8: The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9: He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.
10: He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11: For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;
12: as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.
13: As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
14: For he knows how we are made; he remembers that we are dust.

I was somewhat taken aback to be told a while ago that 'Covid 19 was God's judgment on us'. I cannot agree. The sentiments expressed by this person seems to run completely contrary to the tenor of verses 8-14. We know God abhors sin, but we also know that in both the Old and New Testament God is a God of love and is filled with compassion, as verse 13 indicates. He is the God of righteousness and justice whose judgment is not arbitrary or vengeful, but whose judgment is efficacious in establishing restoration, peace and salvation. Let's face it the Old Testament hero David had committed terrible acts before God, as he admits in Psalm 51:1-2 (See also 2 Samuel chapters 11-12) However, God is both merciful and compassionate as God knows how people are made. King David is no different, he is a man of dust, just as we are; and yet there is mercy, compassion and a transformed life even when one might have anticipated severe judgment.

In a sense it is through the Old Testament insight of steadfast love and mercy, compassion and justice that the Incarnation of Christ Jesus should ultimately be seen. The salvific mind of God is established in Jesus' ministry and Jesus' journey to the Cross, his death and resurrection. God's ultimate desire to save is seen in the truth of Easter and the hope Easter brings to life. Humankind is not condemned outright. Humankind's atonement is neither found in animal sacrifice (Lev.16) nor arguably even, in a doctrine of penal substitution, but in the depths of God's loving compassion. 

The image of being dust reminds us of the ashes placed on our foreheads in the Ashing ceremony on Ash Wednesday. We are mortal. We are frail and we are sinful - 'from dust you come and to dust you shall return' gives voice to Genesis 2:7 and the funereal 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust'. 

For me the God of the Old Testament is one of justice, mercy, compassion and steadfast love and this is continued in my experience of Christ and the ministry of God, the Holy Spirit. Sure there are elements of the Old Testament that I find difficult, maybe even repulsive, but that does not remove my belief in God and the unity of God through Scripture in its entirety. The Old Testament God and the New Testament God are One, not two separate deities as some seem to imply.

In our uncertain times we need to know God's compassion, mercy, righteousness and justice and to understand this in the terms of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ - pure, unmerited and undeserved.

Every blessing,

Simon.

Revd Simon H Leigh: Superintendent minister, Plymouth and Devonport Circuit.