As a father has compassion for his children, so the LORD has compassion for those who fear Him. For He knows how we were made; He remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103.13-14)
If there were an ancient equivalent of the Time-Life greatest-hits CDs, Psalm 103 (Sunday’s morning psalm, attributed to David) would be a shoo-in for “Favorite Psalms of All Time.” Even those who’ve never read it probably know big chunks of it, as Psalm 103 regularly turns up in hymns, liturgies, devotions, and sermons, much like golden oldies are sampled in freshly minted pop tunes. The opening stanza easily stands alone as a timeless classic:
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all His benefits—Who forgives all your iniquity, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from the Pit, Who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, Who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Forgiveness, healing, redemption, love, mercy, goodness, renewal: these are unforgettable benefits the Creator bestows on us so our creativity will flow and thrive. We’re created to serve God’s will as creative surrogates. And it’s essential we embrace our creativity as a defining trait common to all children of God.
What we receive from God definitely benefits us. Yet God also gives us these wondrous gifts to benefit others. Knowing God’s forgiveness teaches us to forgive. Experiencing God’s healing enables us to transmit wholeness to others. And so on. We learn to accept all of God’s benefits by faith. We're redeemed by faith—believing love and mercy revealed in Christ’s sacrifice empower us to reclaim virtues lost to harmful influences and wasted in disobedience. Faith in God’s goodness restores life’s meaning and our power of renewal. At the same time, faith that claims God’s benefits without replicating them is faith half-spent. Ephesians 2.8-10 tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Faith is creativity’s catalyst. Part and parcel with internalizing God’s benefits by faith is exercising faith to impart them to others. This is the creative drive that mimics our Creator’s compulsion to fashion magnificence out of mundane materials and beginnings. Just as we originated from dust, good works we create start with very little. So when David says, “all that is within me,” he insists we hold nothing back. Unfortunately, too often we focus on hurdles to receptive faith, i.e., doubts and fears disabling our ability to claim God’s benefits, when the same hurdles also thwart creative faith that drives us to good works God prepared for us in advance.
Our Work Endures
In verses 10-12, David stresses God’s benefits are gifts we don’t deserve, not rewards we earn:
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far He removes our transgressions from us.
Coming across statements like this in the Psalms, we generalize them as ebullient poetry extolling God’s lavish grace despite our poor behavior. But, like any great artist, David carefully selects imagery to embellish his meaning. Comparing God’s love to the cosmos galvanizes Psalm 103 with wonder at its awesome singularity. Removing our sins “as far as the east is from the west” evokes time. As surely as eastern sunrise delivers each new day and western sunset seals it in the past, grace brings forgiveness and leaves failure behind. The planetary metaphors frame love and grace as divine forces that inspire wonder at our awesome singularity as God’s creative surrogates.
While we’re ever mindful that mortality subjects us to transience and limits us to human scale, good works we create ultimately reflect our Creator’s constant love and immeasurable grace. In verses 15-17, David urges us to remember God’s time is eternal and ours is fleeting: “As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him and His righteousness to children’s children.” Though we eventually fade from the scene, our work endures.
Opportunity to express God’s love and grace lasts only so long. The time we have obtains eternal value by sustaining God’s reflection on a human, rather than cosmic, scale. This explains David’s parallel “family” metaphor. We ensure continuity of God’s love and grace by transmitting them to current and future generations—“children’s children”—instilling confidence in their awesome singularity, teaching them by example to employ God-given talents that reflect their Maker. Verses 13-14 establish the continuity theme: “As a father has compassion for his children, so the LORD has compassion for those who fear Him. For He knows how we were made; He remembers that we are dust.”
We inherit God’s drive to create good works that start with little and acquire lasting value. Humbly offering forgiveness, healing, love, etc., by faith is our family business. Like a compassionate father knows best how to love and nurture his children, God knows best how to love and nurture us, refining our gifts to ensure continuity for generations to come. The purpose for our making, shape of our existence, talents we’re given, and creativity to convey them require no justification or apology. Each of us is made as we are, to become who we are, because God, our Creator and Parent, knows best what we should be and how best we can serve God's plan. Since God knows best, we give our best, blessing the Lord with all that is within us, remembering all of God’s benefits. By relying on creativity we inherit to express every gift God wills to us, good works we create on a human scale make God’s magnificence known.
Just as our creation in God’s image began in dust, good works we create start with mundane material and beginnings that lead to magnificence.