Psalm 130 “A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”
Up the Down Staircase was the title of Bel Kaufman’s famous book, and of its subsequent movie. I’m relatively certain she had no idea how relevant that title is to the Christian life. For as humanity has descended into sin, and in age, we all descend toward the grave, nevertheless, for the Believer, we are also ascending toward our final home with Christ. We’re going up the universal down staircase.
Now one of the peculiar experiences of those who have entered the stage where the living days behind us are far more than those in front of us – at least in terms of this present life – is that we tend to reflect a lot. And if one has a tender conscience because of Christ (hopefully more and more tender as we age) past sins, failures and regrets seem inexplicably to surface and resurface. It can be quite disturbing. And in our present age of “cancel culture”, we can begin to cancel ourselves over past incidents, words spoken, things undone, or things unwisely done etc. But there is a blessing to be had in the phenomena even as there can be real danger to our soul’s condition if the experience is not brought back to our faithful Lord in the light of the Gospel.
The Psalms contain 15 of what are called “Songs of Ascent.” These traditionally were sung either going up to the Temple in Jerusalem, or on the way to Jerusalem for the annual Feast of Tabernacles. And among them is Psalm 130. And it could not be a more appropriate prayer during this later age experience of reflection and regret.
Note first the grace of God in refusing to let us be comfortable with our past sins. Paul’s “forgetting those things which are behind” is not a total dismissal of the past. He himself will go on to recount some of his previous sins, and they are in fact recorded in God’s eternal Word. What changes, is not the facts of the past, but our relationship to them. Once in Christ, all is new. Praise God! Past sins can still (and rightly do) grieve us, even if they cannot condemn us. How good our God is. So the opening lines of the prayer have the Ascender recognizing their need for mercy. Mercy promised and accomplished in Christ – but ever necessary.
Then comes the reality that if our standing before Him was based on not having sin – no one could possibly qualify. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” Indeed! And if that were all to consider, we are all lost. But then comes the refrain: “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” Yes! With Him, there IS forgiveness! And as only He can forgive sin which is always ultimately against Him – He is to be feared as the dispenser of that forgiveness only as He sees fit. How precious the Gospel is then. God extending forgiveness, His personal and cosmic forgiveness, for all to flee to Him in Christ. No matter how grievous those sins.
Now there is truth to the reality that in recounting old sins, there might still be things which on the human level should be made right if they can be. Apologies made. Forgiveness asked. Maybe even restitution. Repentance is a remarkably sweet thing. But due to time, some of those things are impossible to address now. What to do? “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” We cast it upon Him, awaiting the glory of Heaven where all we cannot address here, will at last be made right. When especially those Believers with whom we have some outstanding issues, will be so expunged and met in Christ, that we will simply all rejoice together around His glorious throne – oblivious to all but His transcendent glory. Oh precious promise!
And what do we do now as we ascend this downward staircase to our Heavenly home? “O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”
We hope in Him. We trust in Him. We lavish in His steadfast love, that more than comprehends all the sins we may be able to recall – knowing full well we only know the tip of the iceberg of our sin. But He knows it all, and provided for it all in Christ. We leave the unresolvable with Him – in joy, hope and peace.
When plagued by the past, we view it through the lens of atonement accomplished, and the promise of what is just before us – His all encompassing glory. Jesus has won a “plentiful redemption.” More plentiful than all our sins. And we reflect on His accomplished work on the Cross. We safely rue our past sins, in the light of His cleansing power and promises. And they become occasions to worship Him for His grace.