This past Sunday, Paul Briggs helpfully put Psalm 130 in front of us as a church. I confess I’m not a big fan of the dentist experience, so Paul’s humor about the tooth pain definitely got my attention (very sorry for you, Paul—it surely wasn’t funny then). We might indeed “cry out” for lots of reasons in our life, whether an excruciating toothache or excruciating emotional pain. The psalms are indeed full of stanzas where the psalmist cries out with grief, dismay, unfairness, desperation… the list is of course a full one (and one of the reasons I love the Psalms… there is always a point with which we can identify!). But the cry of Psalm 130:1, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!” is a cry altogether different.
That cry, and the literal pleas for mercy that follow it, are clear about their reason in the crucial verse 3: If God should ‘mark iniquities’ (count them against me), then the psalmist is utterly ruined… for eternity. And that applies no less, of course, for you and me. This crying out to the Lord is not out of the depths of anguish over physical pain, nor out of the depths of grief over the death of a loved one, nor out of the depths of heart-rending desperation of a rebelling child or a broken marriage. Instead, it’s out of the lowest depths anyone can experience—the realization that we are doomed on God’s perfect scale of righteousness… and there is NO WAY to avoid that outcome, no matter our efforts from that point forward.
But just like that cry of the psalmist is altogether different, so is the forgiveness of verse 4. Let us not make the grievous mistake of presuming this forgiveness is anything like how we forgive or experience forgiveness of others. If you said of someone, “Oh, my friend is a very forgiving person,” what are we saying? We’re likely describing someone who more easily lets offense go. Someone who lets a poor remark go unresponded. Someone who sweeps it aside and ignores it.
But that is NOT how God forgives.
He does not let an offense go.
He does not allow a hurtful word to go unresponded.
He sweeps nothing aside.
He ignores NO sin.
So how can the rest of this psalm be about forgiveness and redemption?
Pastor and author Mark Dever describes this paradox as “the riddle of the Old Testament” from Exodus 34. After the golden calf debacle, we read this about God’s interaction with Moses:
The Lord came down in a cloud, stood with him there, and proclaimed His name Yahweh. Then the Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: “Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished…” (Exodus 34:5-7, HCSB)
How can the perfect, just and holy God “forgive wrongdoing, rebellion and sin” and yet “not leave the guilty unpunished”? That is the same riddle packed into the cry of Psalm 130:3: If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, then who could stand?!
This is the very point of the gospel—the very good news that Jesus Christ shed his blood as a perfect atonement for your and my sin—so that God would NOT ignore our sin, but redeem us from it. So we join with the psalmist in the song to say, “with you there is forgiveness,” and that he redeems from all our iniquities!
The more that we, like the psalmist, fully appreciate the “bad” news—no, bad news is a horrible toothache. The more we appreciate the worst possible news of our position apart from Christ, then the more fully we can rejoice in the gospel, the good news—no, the best possible news of our redemption and God’s unparalleled forgiveness. O church, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption!