As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are dust.
I was having trouble deciding whether I felt more strongly to consider verse twelve or verse fourteen, Since I wrestled over it enough, I decided to think on both and include verse thirteen in the consideration.
The opening thought is how far God has removed our transgressions from us. I am comforted by the psalmist’s choice of the word transgressions, as it is a willful disobedience to a known rule rather than an unintentional crossing of a line. God is not only willing to forgive my unwitting wrongdoing, but my willful rebellion as well. In fact, He is so willing to forgive it that He removes it from me [as] far as the east is from the west. And that is a long way. I could begin to travel east this morning and never reach a point where the compass flipped around and told me I was now traveling west. The same cannot be said for north and south. If I travel either direction long enough, I will eventually reach a place where the needle flips; I will reach one of the poles. There are no east or west poles. So God takes my transgression and removes it from me … and keeps removing it from me ad infinitum.
The next thought is about compassion. Being a new father, I am beginning to understand how this concept works. As a man, I could conceptualize it and could nod in agreement thinking, “I’ll probably have compassion for my children if-when I have children.” Now that I am a father, I can simply nod in agreement. There is something about my child being in pain or distress that calls to the gentler side of me. My child’s fits provoke my ire, but my child’s pain prompts my compassion. God, being abundantly more fatherly than the most fatherly father ever to father a child (I had to do it), is prompted to still more compassion than I will ever be able to muster. His compassion is increased, I suspect, by the knowledge that we are dust. He knows that dust is not able to do much and cannot bear much of a load. He knows that we are not made of sterner stuff. When my child exhibits a weakness with which I am all too familiar, it tempers my ire if she is being unruly and augments my compassion if she is in pain.
There is the idea of fearing God — a notion that makes some believers squirm and others get slippery — tucked into these verses. There is a context to consider. The most recent context given is that of a parent. When I was a boy, I was afraid of my parents. They were the ones in control of the things I wanted. My toys, my time, my leisure were all at their disposal. If they decided that the family was going somewhere I did not want to go, then I was out of luck. If they caught me transgressing one of their rules, I was disciplined. We believers get squirrelly and squirmy, I think, because we forget that children in a healthy and normal family environment have a healthy and normal fear of their parents. The relationship between God, the Father, and us is described in terms of the parent-child dynamic. There should be a healthy and perfectly normal fear involved. As I grew, my fear transitioned from being afraid of the discipline to being afraid of having disappointed my parents. Likewise, my relationship with God must grow. Proverbs says that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (emphasis mine). John would later write that perfect love casts out fear. Should we fear God? Absolutely. Should we grow in our relationship with Him from fear to love? Better believe it. As an adult, I no longer fear my parents and I am far less concerned that I will disappoint them, though the thought does cross my mind from time to time. The love has grown and matured — perfected, if you will — to a place where the fear is gone.
All well and good, but I must apply it. First, let me be as forgiving toward others as God is to me. If I am going to forgive at all, let it be as far as east is from west. Let me remove the thought of the wrong so far from the person who did it that the two are never again connected in my mind. Second, let me be as compassionate toward others as God is toward me. He is mindful that I am dust. Let me extend the same forbearance to my fellow dirt bags. We are all of us shadows and dust animated by a breath of God. Let me keep that before my mind’s eye and I am far more likely to be compassionate and forgiving in the way I ought to be. Finally, I should regularly check in on my relationship with God to see that the fear that accompanies my young relationship with Him grows; matures; perfects. The fear should be replaced by love and that love should motivate my obedience to Him as the fear once did. Forgiveness. Compassion. Love. They must be lived.