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God is a Forgiving God

In the Ancient Near East, the world from which the Bible emerged, successive cultures built cities on top of the ruins of old ones. People didn’t bother developing new land. They just used what was there and built the new city right on top of, or immediately next to the old.

One of my favorite pictures from Turkey (above), is from the city of Ephesus, because it beautifully captures this idea. In the foreground is the ruins of Temple of Artemis (built 550 BC, reconstructed 323 BC). And in the background is both the Basilica of St. John (built 6th century AD) and the Isa Bey mosque (built 1374-75). While not directly on top of each other, archeological digs show that both the basilica and the mosque used materials from the Temple of Artemis in their construction.

An archeological dig in the Near East involves a process of discovering one period of history and then another period that is a layer beneath that, and then another.

It's as though we need to wipe the dust off story after story after story.

That’s something like confession. Author Tyler Staton writes, “Confession [is] to excavate down into the layers of your own life, uncovering not just what’s obvious on the surface but the layers of personal history underneath that continue to inform your present.”

But confession is something we tend to want to avoid. We don’t exactly like to acknowledge our shortcomings and our failures. Because if we confess, we have to acknowledge that we are sinners.

As Eugene Peterson defines it, “Sin is a refused relationship with God that spills over into a wrong relationship with others.”

But the good news, according to Eugene Peterson, “God does not deal with sin by ridding our lives of it as if it were a germ, or mice in the attic. God does not deal with sin by amputation as if it were a gangrenous leg, leaving us crippled, holiness on a crutch. God deals with sin by forgiving us, and when [God] forgives us there is more of us, not less.”

That healing power of forgiveness is what David discovered and came to know. And we know that because the psalms offer so many glimpses of David’s cry to God. Scholars call them the penitential psalms.

These prayers for help are prayed by a person who was caught in a mess of their own making. They broke some law, hurt some person, or committed some crime. And now they are praying and asking to be delivered from the bed they have made for themselves.

While some, like Psalm 51, identify a particular circumstance, most of these psalms do not. But given that we too know what it is to get caught in a mess of our own making, it’s not hard to find a point of connection even if our particular circumstance is far removed from that of the psalmist.

But what’s striking is that these psalms do not contain an explicit word of forgiveness. Rather, they bear witness to one of Israel’s central confessions about humans and about God – that humans sin against each other and against God, but God is a forgiving God.

The psalmist can openly and honestly acknowledge his sin, because he is so confident in God’s gracious forgiveness and unceasing love. May we too have such confidence.

Grace and peace,


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