Praising God with Dusty Hands (Psalm 103:11-14)
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; ¹²as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. ¹³As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. ¹⁴For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. —Psalm 103:11-14
We need more compassion than we are able to give. The author of Psalm 103 had learned this about himself. David knew that in the most important relationship in his life, he had not contributed the same love he had been shown.
He was aware that the main things he contributed to his relationship with God were weakness and iniquity. He knew he was as needy as a child and he needed his Father to be better to him than he could ever be back to his Father.
The Mercy of God
In the relationship between God and man, God is capable of contributing infinitely more goodness to us than we could ever give back to Him. Verse 10 tells us that He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. At no cost to us, and at great cost to Him, God pours out undeserved kindness—His mercy—on repentant sinners. He doesn't wait for you to be pleasing to Him to show His compassion to you.
Think of the decades of accumulated sin you've heaped up between God and you. Think of how much further along in your personal holiness you should be. Think of your heart that is so prone to grumble and complain; to dismiss anything that's inconvenient to you; to spiral into fear about what's happening to you as if God hasn't always been there to help you, promising His almighty self to be there in the future.
God's lovingkindness, says verse 11, is as high as the heavens are above the earth. That means it’s unreachable by human hands. We humans have sent rockets to the moon. That's really awesome. But that doesn't, in any way, get close to how infinitely high God's compassion is over us. What you do down here below has zero effect on what occurs above you. It would be like thinking you can change a hot, sunny day into a rainy day by throwing a cup of water into the air. That's how much effect your sin has on God's compassion. Isn't that amazing?
Verse 12 says “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Think about what east and west meant to David when he was writing this psalm. In David’s mind, the east held infinite lands, most of which were untamed and mysterious. To the west were waters leading to more waters with untold depths. Those opposites are the unknown destination of your sin. Somewhere in that lost, vast space that we can't know, God removes your sin and casts it from you.
Why would He do this? Because God knows who He is. And He knows who you are. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” We are no match for God's love.
The Good Father
Your weakness doesn't cause God's love. What causes God's love is His own character. What evokes His compassion and pity is your helplessness. God is like a good father whose heart is calibrated perfectly. It's full of love for all the right things because He Himself is goodness and righteousness. When such a Father sees the needs of His children, He is moved to help them.
We can never give back to God what He has given to us in Jesus Christ. God knows that we are dust. And those dusty hands of ours can be lifted in praise to a God whose compassion is higher than the heavens.
How would meditating on God’s undeserved kindness change the way you interpret hard circumstances in your life?
Are memories of past sins haunting you? Ask God to change the purpose of those memories—to motivate praise for His forgiveness, effort to flee temptation, and eagerness to embrace holiness instead.
How does your experience of your human father help, or hurt, your understanding of our heavenly Father? Ask God to reveal His goodness to you as Father.
Jeremy Pierre, Ph.D. is Professor of Biblical Counseling and Department Chair at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of God With Us: A Journey Home (2021), The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life (2016), and more. He serves as a pastor at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He teaches how important it is in times of darkness to carry the light of Scripture inside you.