I have found that one of the most difficult things for me to do is to accept free things. I know it seems odd, but somewhere along the line I’ve convinced myself that everything received requires works of reciprocity, and I don’t think I’m the only one who believes this. Take for instance the closing scene in one of my favorite movies, Saving Private Ryan. Private Ryan is listening to the last words of a mortally wounded Captain Miller who is laying on the ground. With his last breath, Miller pulls Ryan close to him and says, “Earn this…earn it.” The camera turns its focus to the face of the young Private Ryan that then morphs into his older self, now in a graveyard, with his family standing behind him. Ryan, speaking to the grave marker of captain Miller, says, “Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I’ve tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.” Ryan then stands and turning to his wife asks her, “Tell me I’ve led a good life? Tell me I’m a good man?”
While this image of a man driven by the desire to make life’s every moment count is moving, it is also quite depressing. What I mean is, it’s not hard to imagine that Miller’s last words colored every moment of Ryan’s life with the question of whether he was doing enough to earn the freedom that had been given him. It’s possible Ryan spent each day enjoying life’s beauty, but I think it more likely that there was a constant whisper in the back of his mind asking if he was doing enough to earn the life he had been given. And even in those moments when he did enjoy life’s pleasures, I can’t imagine that the voice in the back of his head went silent.
In an odd sort of way, this brings me to why I think verse 3 is the key verse of Psalm 65. Prior to verse 3 David praises God for answering his prayer, after verse 3 he speaks of life’s joys as a result of God’s strength and love, but in verse 3 we find that for which David was praying, and seemingly the bridge between his request and his joy,
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.
It seems simple, doesn’t it? We sin; God forgives. But for me, and I suspect others, God’s forgiveness isn’t easy to receive without wanting to do something to earn the gift. But this false sense of obligation, as was probably the case with Private Ryan, mutes the joy of every life experience. But as burdensome as this overwhelming obligation might be, I don’t think that is the only or the major reason why God’s gift of forgiveness is difficult to receive.
If we look at verse 3 again, I believe it will become obvious that David’s primary emphasis was not merely that he had sinned, but that he was overwhelmed by his sin. It’s not hard to imagine that David had allowed his mind to dwell on how awful his actions had been and how awful they might become in the future, and thus how utterly despicable of a human being he must be. I think it’s possible these thoughts precipitated an ominously dark cloud of depression overwhelming every thought and experience from which an exit seemed inconceivable.
I could be wrong, but I think it might be necessary to go through a dark period like this before one can freely accept God’s forgiveness of sins. Sometimes this dark period can be days, months, or even years, but David’s words indicate there is a way to move past the depression so as to finally accept God’s forgiveness.
And don’t miss what lies in Psalm 65:4 and on the other side of forgiveness: “Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts!” David indicates that being forgiven by God means that you are blessed. While being blessed might mean something deeply spiritual, the Hebrew word used for blessed (esher), literally means happy. Essentially, David says the people who have received God’s forgiveness are happy people.
But being blessed, or happy, doesn’t end there with pure spiritual blessings. Psalm 65:5-13 tells of a beautiful world filled with joy and happiness, all protected by God’s great strength and providence. Joy, resulting in songs of praise, is found in the roaring of the seas, the dawning sunrise, the evening sunset, streams of water feeding crops producing an abundance of food, and innumerable flocks covering the hills.
What I think this means is that those who accept God’s freely offered forgiveness – I mean really accept it without a sense of obligation and with a willingness to step out from under the cloud of sinful oppression – those people take joy in every circumstance. For true joy and lasting hope will never come until we embrace God’s unconditional forgiveness.