What is God like? What comes to your mind when you think of Him? We Christians believe that God has revealed what He is like to us in His Word, the Bible. So when reading our Bibles, before we ask the question, “What is this telling me to do?” we should be asking, “What does this teach me about what God is like?”
From the pages of Scripture we learn many things about God. We learn that God is powerful, glorious, mighty, majestic, loving, gracious, just, compassionate, holy, and on and on. I bet many of you could list off plenty of Bible stories that show us something about God – and that is so important. A.W. Tozer once famously said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
And while I would give a hearty amen to the sentiment of Tozer’s quote, I think that it simply needs a little caveat – one supplied by C.S. Lewis himself, “I read in a periodical the other day that the fundamental thing is how we think of God. By God Himself, it is not! How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except in so far as it is related to how He thinks of us,” (The Weight of Glory).
I don’t know if Lewis was addressing Tozer directly or someone else, but it is a profound rebuke. We can, at times, become so wrapped up in what we know about God, or how we should obey God, or how we should be trusting God, that we almost forget about God altogether. By this I mean that we can be so consumed with what we think about God that we forget or never discover what God thinks about us. Not that it is wrong to think right things about God, or strive for right obedience, or stronger faith towards our Lord – not at all! – but, if we strive after those things without first centering ourselves first on what God thinks about us, how God feels towards us, we will shrivel up like a rootless flower baking in the sun.
So, for our sermon today I want to ask that question: What does God think of me? How does God feel towards me? Let’s look at Ps. 103 to answer.
Before the psalmist gets into the meat of his psalm he begins with his response to God, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,” (vs. 1-2). Whatever it is about God that David is singing about, it is something that is making “all that is within” him burst into praise. Actually, David bookends the psalm with a similar section in vs. 20-22 where David suddenly turns towards the angels, ministers and the rest of creation and commands them to “Bless the Lord” also. Here is what David is saying: whatever is contained in this psalm is such good news that he can’t keep it to himself, it is overflowing and spilling onto everything else – and its supposed to.
And maybe as soon as you hear that you think, “I certainly don’t love God like that. I certainly don’t have that kind of passion in my worship.” But look friends, we know that our worship more often than not is mellow, we know that our obedience more often than not is half-hearted, we know that our faith more often than not isn’t as strong as we’d like it to be. We know that we often bring God our cold left-overs when He deserves our finest and our best. And that should bother us. But tonight, we aren’t focusing primarily on how tragically we fail God, but how powerfully He loves us.
What God Does
In verse 2, David mentions that we must “forget not all his benefits,” and then proceeds to list them in verses 3-5. Let’s look at them one at a time.
“Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,” (vs. 3). What does “iniquity” mean? Iniquity is sometimes translated as “sin”, sometimes as “guilt”. It is a word that literally means, “to be twisted or bent”. This is the same image that is being used with the word “diseases” here. A disease is twisting of a healthy person. They both are describing the fact that we are by nature broken. If you were to grab an arrow that was bent crooked, what would happen when you tried to shoot it? It would veer off course. This is what happens with our lives. We come into this world as a cute little baby, but we have a broken heart, and as we grow we naturally veer farther and farther from our God. Why? Because we are born with a disease of the soul.
And what does God do to us spiritually twisted and sick individuals? He forgives us. He forgives us of all our iniquities and heals us of all our diseases. All of our weakness, all of our flaws, He simply washes away.
“Who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,” (vs. 4). God not only forgives us of our iniquities, but He also rescues us from dying, forever. The “pit” is the grave. David is confident that God will save Him from seeing death, and not only that, but will bestow, like a crown, his faithful love and mercy on David, for all of eternity. Our hope isn’t just in being redeemed from a guilty conscience here in our lives, but our hope reaches far beyond the grave.
“Who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s,” (vs. 5). Not only does God forgive us of all our failures, and not only does He promise us everlasting life, but He also satisfies us with such goodness that it reinvigorates us. This satisfaction doesn’t mean that God will satisfy us with everything that the world says should satisfy us, but instead He will satisfy us with Himself. The preacher in Ecclesiastes had millions of dollars, numerous college degrees hanging on the wall, and endless women willing to share his bed – everything that our world today tells us will satisfy us. But he looks out at all of it and says, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless .” It is the very presence of God that is our satisfaction, it is the very nearness of God that is our good, it is the very person of God that is our joy.
Why would God do such great things for us? Well, that’s just who God is.
Who God Is
“The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” (vs. 6-8). Here David pulls from the famous moment from Mount Sinai in Exodus 34, when God declares what His fundamental character and nature is like to Moses. David paraphrases it a bit here, but this is essentially it. So what is God like? We learn two characteristics of God here:
- God is Just. “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” Right now it looks like the world is on fire. At a time where it seems like the wicked are winning and no one is stopping them, we can rest in the truth that there will never be a crime, a sin, an evil that goes unpunished. No one will ever get away with anything. No corrupt politician, no mass-murderer, no internet bully will ever have the final say. God stands up and fights for the oppressed. That’s who He is. Now, God may bring judgement on someone here in this life, or that may not be till the age to come – but from the perspective of eternity, we can be comforted by the fact that there is never an injustice that God simply shrugs His shoulders at.
- God is Merciful. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” God is quick to forgive, slow to be angry, and overflowing in persistent, constant love. While we see displays of God’s wrath in punishing sin in the Bible, we are never taught, “God is wrath”. We are however taught that, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). We must never assume that God doesn’t have the stomach to carry out His justice – He most certainly does! – but we are taught that isn’t fundamentally who God is. Listen to Ezekiel, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ez. 18:23). God doesn’t delight in Hell the way He delights in Heaven – it pains Him!
So how do we reconcile these two attributes? How can God be both just and merciful? The answer is: the Cross. You see, when Jesus Christ died on the Cross, He died as our substitute. The Father’s justice was fulfilled in punishing sin, but His mercy was also fulfilled in punishing Jesus instead of us. So now, because the one true Son of God was treated as an enemy, the enemies of God can become His sons and daughters.
God is both just and merciful.
What God Feels
Maybe you are very familiar with everything I have said up until now, but we still haven’t explicitly answered the first question we brought up, “What does God think about me? What does God feel toward me?” We have been talking all about what God does and who God is, and all of that is absolutely vital, but none of that will ever crack open our cold hearts till we know how God feels towards us. What word comes to your mind when you think of how God feels toward you? Happy? Angry? Disappointed? Indifferent?
If you are a Christian in here today, I can tell you what God thinks of you, and it can be summarized in one word: Pleased. God is pleased with you. What do I mean, how could that be? Let’s look at the passage
“He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever,” (vs. 9). Because of Jesus Christ the righteous and just anger of God has been removed from us.
“He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities,” (vs. 10). Because of Jesus our sins have been removed and our debts have been paid. We now stand in Christ’s righteousness. So now, the Father’s affections and love are not cooled, even by our own failures.
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him,” (vs. 11). The Father’s love for me is as vast as the heavens – that’s the kind of love that would give up His one and only Son so that I might have everlasting life.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us,” (vs. 12). The powerful image here is the reality that there is an infinite distance between east and west – whereas there is a finite distance between north and south, at some point when you are heading north, it will eventually become south. But not so with east and west, it goes on forever – that’s how far the Lord has removed our sins from us.
“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him,” (vs. 13). Maybe some of you have had fantastic fathers. You can know that your father’s are nothing but dim shadows to the affection, compassion and gentleness of our Heavenly Father. Some of you have had lousy fathers, but you ache for a father who would show you compassion – find your fill here.
“For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust,” (vs. 14). Why on earth would God be so understanding, so patient, so gentle, so loving towards a bunch of screw ups like us? We constantly fail Him, we constantly let Him down. He comes asking for something to drink, and we give Him salt water. He comes looking for something to eat, and we give him dirt. Why would He still want us? Why would He still love us? Because, He knows our frame – He knows that we are bent; He remembers that we are dust. Your weakness does not shock God. Your failures are not unknown to God. And with all of your flaws, all of your garbage, all of your mess out on full display for God to see, He looks at it and says, “Oh, I know you’re weak. But I love you so dearly.” Jesus understands our weakness.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Heb. 4:15-16).
There might be some of you here today who feel like you need to prove to God that you are worth something, that you are valuable to Him by being impressive somehow. And if that is you, then I promise you that one day, if not already, you will begin to grow tired and feel exhausted at trying to minimize your flaws and exaggerate your strengths and you will suddenly feel like taking a vacation from Christianity. First off, that isn’t Christianity at all, and Secondly, if you wander from the Lord you will shortly find that everything in life is asking you to be impressive to earn your place. What you need isn’t a vacation from Christianity, what you need is to actually meet the real Jesus, maybe for the first time.
“Every other hope is based, explicitly or implicitly, on how deserving we are. Only the Christian gospel is based – clearly, boldly, and insistently – on how loving God is to the undeserving. If you thought you could earn, demand, and fight your way through life on the basis of your own entitlements and cleverness, but now you find within yourself not light but darkness and denial, not freedom but impasse; if you have shocked yourself with the evil you’re capable of and have given up on yourself in despair, the God of love waits for you with open arms today.” – Ray Ortlund, The Gospel, p. 32.