Jon Lindgren, a self-proclaimed “free thinker” whose blog appears in the Fargo Forum, often provides commentary on how he perceives Christianity and Christians in general, and one of his common themes is that Christians are preoccupied with sin. The honest reality, as much as I hate to admit it, is that he is on to something. Sadly, I believe we Christians tend to be known far more for what we are against than what we are for.
That is, in part, why Psalm 106 leaps from the pages of holy writ, strongly exhorting me to remember that God’s favor appears far more delightful to God than does his anger. God is equally if not more so preoccupied with grace than he is with sin, and so must we be. Consider Psalm 106:4-5, which declares:
Remember me, O LORD, when you show
favor to your people;
help me when you save them,
that I may look upon the prosperity of
your chosen ones,
that I may rejoice in the gladness of
that I may glory with your inheritance.
I want to be the guy that understands the heart of man well enough to discern righteousness from unrighteousness, holiness from sin, and the reality of a life well lived from a life of self-destruction. I want to be the man whose mind is razor sharp when it comes to Truth, and whose heart is sensitive to the well-being of the Flock of God, ready to stand and defend no matter the cost that very flock, preserving its purity and promoting its joy. I want to be the one who is willing to look evil in the eye and go to the gallows on behalf of the oppressed and a willingness to stop sheer wickedness in its tracks.
But I also want to be a guy so thrilled by redemption that the sin-shaped liabilities of life—ever so real—will always be eclipsed by the eternal joy of the sinner’s transformation at Calvary.
Therein, however, is my problem. If I am brutally honest I spend too much of my time thinking about how the erring believer . . . well . . . errs, and not enough time gratefully acknowledging that despite that erring reality he or she is redeemed. And then it hits me: I am ugly and judgmental and, to Lindgren’s dreadful observation, preoccupied with the sin of others—and probably my own.
Help me . . . that I may look upon the prosperity of your chosen ones. If only my default would be the prospering grace and redemption within the lives of those around me, and within me. One wonders what freedom or joys that would bring not only to my own soul, but to the realm in which I find myself.
Now for those hurrying to throw stones at me out of fear that I am diminishing the reality of unholiness, keep in mind the tenor of Psalm 106. The Maker of Heaven and Earth is deeply aware of the sinful plight of his chosen people. Psalm 106 does not in any way whitewash their sin. They have done wickedness (Psa. 106:6), “they did not remember the abundance” of God’s love (Psa. 106:7), “they soon forgot his works” (Psa. 106:13), they were jealous (Psa. 106:16), they made and revered idols (Psa. 106:19-20), they hated and complained (Psa. 106:24-25), they murdered their own children by sacrificing them to demons (Psa. 106:37), and on and on it goes. We cannot overlook the fact that God’s “anger” was “kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage” (Psa. 106:40). “Nevertheless,” the text says, “when he heard their cry . . . he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Psa. 106:44-45).
Am I somehow more righteous than God? Am I somehow more holy than he? Are my standards somehow higher or better or clearer? Of course not! And yet too often I live as if my standards are, as if my holiness (which is a farce, really, for I am the chief of sinners!) is somehow far superior than God’s. Indeed, when I consider his grace I tend toward a quiet condecension, smirking discreetly at what I too easily believe is a misstep on God’s part. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” the Pharisees asked regarding Jesus (see Matthew 9:11). The lightbulb of recognition for me is that I’d be the Pharisee who would have asked that question.
Indeed, I prefer what the editors of the English Standard Version tucked away into the margin when they considered Psalm 106:4. Remember me, O LORD, with the favor you show to your people; help me with your salvation.
I don’t think I will ever—this side of Heaven—fully appreciate the power of God’s mercy and salvation, but I sure want to try. I really want to be preoccupied with that over and above the rest.