Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits –
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
I make lists on a daily basis trying to remember what I have to do. Sometimes at the end of the day the list is shorter (that’s a good day) but they’re unusual. Making a list in a planner is just one way to remember. Hanging in the kitchen is a calendar, on the bookshelf sits a diary, next to it is my mobile phone which I increasingly use to remind me of upcoming events. All of these aide-mémoires are needed because I often forget – and I’m sure I’m not the only one. In this Psalm we are told to remember all the benefits that come from God, and there’s a lot of them!
The first benefit is the forgiveness of all our sins. The Psalms are honest about humanity. We don’t always get it right. Several psalms show an awareness of the psalmist’s own sins, some psalms show an awareness that he has his blind spots and he asks God to make him aware of those sins, quite a lot of psalms are a desperate plea to save him from the sins of other people.
Following on from the forgiveness of sins is the healing of all our diseases. Several psalms look to God as the one who will restore to us physical health. We value the skilled work of health care workers and research scientists but every gift of healing is ultimately from God. And it is not just physical restoration that God brings. The language of ‘the pit’ speaks not just of bodily ailments but the darkness of mental despair.
To the victims of injustice and oppression God is the one who works righteousness, who corrects wrong and brings peace built on the firm foundation of justice. God’s justice however is primarily restorative rather than retributive. He punishes not for the sake of punishment but to correct, hence verses 8–12 which speak of God’s discipline. Yes, there might be times when God is angry, but that is always in the context of God’s love.
In the New Testament John tells us that God’s very nature is love (1 John 4:16). This is nothing new. Throughout the Psalms there is declaration after declaration that God is loving and compassionate.
That compassion demonstrates itself in God’s understanding of our life and our struggles. Philosophers and theologians sometimes speak of God’s omniscience, but that is a cold, remote academic term as if God were just some kind of supercomputer. Here, the psalmist extols God’s knowledge in the most personal terms. God knows we are dust, like the wild grass or the flowers of the field that are here today and gone tomorrow. At the time of writing we are still in lockdown, and it’s a very vivid reminder of how feeble and frail we really are, with our lives undone by an enemy too small to see. Yet to those who know God and fear him there need be no trepidation. Instead, there is the knowledge that he is our Heavenly Father and that, through Christ, we are his beloved children. The knowledge of his perfect love drives out all fear (1 John 4:18), even if we might have the occasional wobble!
Sometimes, perhaps often, the world doesn’t seem to work as God wants. There’s something gone terribly wrong with nature and with our human nature. But the psalmist’s conviction is that, in spite of appearances, it is YHWH who reigns over all.
If anyone wanted to understand what the Bible teaches about God’s nature then this psalm is an excellent place to begin. We see God’s charter dazzlingly displayed in Jesus, the word made flesh. In Jesus and through Jesus we find forgiveness, and in him we have the promise of ultimate healing as we share in his resurrection, a healing that involves the transformation of our minds and emotions as well as our bodies. And the hope that we have is not for ourselves alone but is big enough to embrace the whole of creation.
No wonder the psalm ends in an explosion of praise. ‘This is our God,’ says the Psalmist, ‘These are his benefits, is he not worthy of all our worship?’