Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live[a]
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…
17But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
— Psalms 103:1-8, 17-18
On my birthday a few weeks ago, a friend sent me a card depicting a woman painting graffiti on a wall. The words she wrote were, “I’m not adding this year to my age; I didn’t use it.” The point was well made. This year, 2020, has been an incredibly difficult year for a great many people. COVID-19 ravaged the world, and the United States of America has experienced a death toll nearing close to 275,000 persons. Black Americans and others are still trying to convince a nation in denial that black lives do indeed matter. While the national election is now behind us, vitriol and divisiveness remain regarding its outcome. While we may not want to add 2020 to our chronological age, this has been a year where we have learned a great deal about ourselves and what we are willing to bear for the sake of exhibiting and extending the grace of God to those around us.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving and move into the season of Advent, it is an excellent time to reflect on the grace that has been exhibited and extended toward us by God. For me, reflecting on Psalm 103 with its series of “benefits” is a great starting place for that. Let’s consider some of the verses in that chapter:
Let’s be Thankful for “Forgiveness” (Psalms 103:3)
The year 2020 has reminded us how ungracious we can be toward each other. The cable news networks, political extremists, and even different theological camps attack each other as if there were combatants in the Game of Thrones. Our nation appears to be withering away in a slow, excruciating death of ungrace in a desert of deceit and lies. While we each need and crave to be forgiven, we have an extremely hard time forgiving each other. The Psalm tells us that God forgives. Forgiveness is not ignoring wrongdoing or the pain it inflicts. Rather forgiveness takes our fractured lives and heals them from top to bottom. Grace empowers us to take a good honest look in the mirror of our own lives, acknowledge our own brokenness, and embrace the unconditional love God has for us that makes us whole. We are set free by forgiveness and empowered to be a forgiver. So, we praise God, “Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases …”
Let’s be Thankful for Renewal of Life (Psalms 103:4-5)
Geraldine Vermaa once wrote, “Ungratefulness is worse than a cancer; it eats away at your soul; blinding your heart and eyes to the beauty and miracles that are all around us each day in our lives.” An ungrateful heart is incapable of sustaining life. Those who fail to live in gratitude are eventually reduced to mere existence rather than thriving. We become lifeless sectarian zombies, The Ungrateful Dead. But God did not create us to merely exist but to be fully and freely alive. It is God
“who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with HESED
who satisfies you with good as long
as you live
so that your youth is renewed like
With God, we receive a renewal of life. Has it ever occurred to you that up until now, God has redeemed you from each and every “Pit” you’ve been in? The proof of that is that you woke up this morning and are still here. God is not through with us yet! We are “redeemed” out of that Pit and “renewed” like the wings of an eagle. Love and compassion are gifts of God that course through our veins, making us feel a new life. What a gift to be thankful for. Our lives are renewed. They are crowned with God’s HESED.
Let’s be Thankful for Love that is Gracious (Psalms 103:8)
Israel is brought face to face with the “God Creed” in verse 8, which came from Yahweh’s voice in Exodus 34:6.
“The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger
abounding in HESED.”
God’s ways are Hesed ways! Hesed ways are compassion, grace, slow to anger, and extremely rich in love. Hesed ways do not dish out punishment on the basis of what we deserve. HESED assures us that “He does not repay us according to our iniquities.” What if this was the basis of how human beings treated one another or Christians (at the very least) treated one another?
Bless the Lord, O my soul, for his infinite “HESED.”
Let’s be Thankful for Covenant (Psalms 103:18)
I am grateful that we are in a “covenant” with God and not in a “contract” with God. For years, growing up, I lived (because I was taught) that God’s covenant was a contract. I lived with unbearable guilt and shame because I could never fulfill the imagined terms of that contract and because I kept looking over my shoulder for God to make me pay dearly for my failure to meet the terms of that contract.
Psalm 103 knows nothing of a contract but everything about a covenant. Covenant is a relationship. A relationship between spouses; a relationship between parents and children. I pity the wife (or husband) or the daughter (or son) who has a spouse or parent who views him or her in a contract framework.
“As a father has compassion for his children,
so Yahweh has compassion for those who fear him.” (Psalms 103:13)
“The HESED of Yahweh is from everlasting to everlasting.” (Psalms 103:17)
God refuses to give us up. It is not because we earn it, deserve it, or demonstrate meticulous obedience. God keeps us for the same reason a parent never gives up on a daughter/son. It is because of God’s covenant of love (cf. Deuteronomy 7:7-9)! It is because we are God’s own.
That is why We Thank Him.
Forgiveness, renewal of life, gracious love, the unbreakable covenant—these are some of Yahweh’s “benefits” for believing and following his word.
So, the Psalm declares that is why we “bless” the Lord. That is why we lift our hands in praise. That is why we raise the cup of Thanksgiving (Psalms 116:13). This is why we gather with other people and feast at his table. This is why we “give thanks to God with our whole heart, in the company of the upright…” (Psalms 111:1)
Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins
Acting Executive Director