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A television advertisement shows a cartoonish person walking with his head in a cloud or a fog or a ball of cotton. The tagline reads “The joy of certainty” as the cloud lifts and the figure walks on happily. This joy of certainty is promised to those who consult the psychics available at an 800 number.

Such an ad illustrates something of the restless and rootless character of our times. Many today claim to be rational, modern, and scientific but often are gullible and searching in strange places for certainty and truth. Where can we find certainty in a world that is constantly changing and so very uncertain? As Christians, we look to the Word of God and are confident of the truth that we find there.

How can we help others come to share in the confidence that we have in the Bible? We can and must argue for the truth of our faith, but often moderns think that they have considered our arguments and know better. Are there ways to challenge modern assumptions and lead to a reconsideration of Christian claims?

One way would be to stress the beauty of truth rather than focusing only on the truth of truth. The beauty of truth can be found in both the content and the form of the truth that we find in the Word of God. By beauty we mean the balance and proportion of truth, the attraction and satisfaction of truth. Beauty refers to the emotional fulfillment of truth as well as its rational conviction.

We can see such beauty many places in the Scriptures, but one example is Psalm 103. The favorite psalm for most Dutch Reformed people, Psalm 103 is a psalm of praise to God for His goodness to His people. This psalm begins and ends with words of praise and blessing to God for His works, both for His personal and individual provisions (vv. 1–4) and for His universal rule in all things (vv. 20–22).

At the center of this psalm is a beautiful confession of the character of God, from which His works of love flow. Verse 13, the heart of the psalm, declares: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.” The love and tender mercies of the Lord to His people are like the concern and care of a father to his children. God is our heavenly Father. We do not live in a purely material and impersonal universe; we are surrounded by personal interest and love.

Life would be utterly meaningless without the everlasting love of God to sustain us.

The compassion of God in Psalm 103 focuses on the two greatest human needs. If we polled people about their greatest needs, many of the answers would miss the mark entirely. Part of the lostness of the human condition is not even knowing what is needed. This psalm wisely sees our greatest needs as our sinfulness and our mortality. Our sin separates us from God and renders us liable to His judgment. Our mortality casts a shadow over all of life and means that life will end in death.

The psalm calls us to remember all the blessings and benefits of the God “who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases” (v. 3). God’s compassion to sinners and mortals, introduced in verses 1–5, is examined in the beautiful poetry of verses 8–12 and 14–17.

The compassion of God to sinners begins with a quotation from Exodus 34:6. Moses had asked God to show him His glory, and God responded by promising to show him all His goodness as He passed by while Moses hid in the cleft of the rock (Ex. 33:18–23). As God passed by, He spoke the words quoted in Psalm 103:8 to show His goodness: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Because of that great mercy, God promises that He will not deal with us as our sins really deserve (v. 10). Our sins deserve only judgment and punishment. But God’s immense love—“as high as the heavens are above the earth” (v. 11)—takes our sins far away, “as far as the east is from the west” (v. 12).

Psalm 103 does not tell us how God takes our sins away, but Isaiah 53 tells us clearly that God’s Suffering Servant will take our sins and carry them away. That prophecy in Isaiah points us to Jesus, who on the cross took our sins on Himself and paid the penalty for them so that we are free of them forever.

The reflection of Psalm 103 also looks at God’s compassion to mortals, which also alludes to Exodus 34:6. The love of God is everlasting, which means that death cannot defeat or end it: “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him” (Ps. 103:17). Everlasting love is for those who will live everlastingly in that love.

We need everlasting love because, left to ourselves, we return to the dust from which we were made. The Lord knows that. He remembers that our days pass quickly away and that we are like the flowers of the field. Life would be utterly meaningless without the everlasting love of God to sustain us, without the promise that our God is the One “who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy” (v. 4). We see that the resurrection of Jesus is our promise of eternal life in the love of God. Here indeed is a beautiful truth.

Some in the world hear of the mercy of the Lord and presume that they are safe from the wrath to come. This psalm, however, makes clear that God’s compassion is for those who are in covenant with Him (v. 18), for those who fear Him (vv. 11, 13, 17). The covenant mercies of God must be revealed to us (v. 7), but when we accept that revelation, we know the beautiful truth of the gospel.

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From the February 2024 Issue
Feb 2024 Issue