As far as the East is from the West...
‘… so far’, Psalm 103 tells us, ‘has He (God) removed our transgressions from us.’
When the Psalmist wrote those words the Greenwich Meridian hadn’t been established. He couldn’t potter down to Greenwich Park and stand with one foot in the Western Hemisphere and one in the Eastern. When he said ‘As far as the East is from the West’ he was talking in much more Universal terms.
My wife and I once went to Lowestoft, the most easterly point of the British Isles. We were young enough for her still to appreciate my sense of humour and I made some crack just as we were about to be served in a café which made her cry with laughter, and I got such a filthy look from the waitress who clearly thought I was abusing her. Years later we stayed in a hotel on the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides that was the most westerly in Great Britain, watching a magnificent sunset as we tucked into our Aberdeen Angus. They were a jolly long way apart.
But even that’s not what the Psalmist means. God takes our sins, the daft, stupid and wilful things we do to annoy Him, and throws them away to the opposite extent of infinity. Yet many of us still keep them in our rucksacks, lugging around the weight that Jesus lifted from us on the cross when all our sin was loaded on Him.
I have often wondered about the descriptions of Abraham’s faith that crop up in various places in the Bible. Maybe the most powerful comes in Romans 4 vv18-21:
‘Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead - since he was about a hundred years old - and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.’
Now in my version of the Old Testament, and no doubt yours too, didn’t Abraham and Sarah just have a little, tiny doubt about God’s ability to provide them with a son who would fulfil God’s promise of Abraham becoming ‘the father of many nations’? I seem to remember Sarah actually laughing in God’s face at such a promise and giving her husband one of her slave girls though whom to fulfil it. ‘Without weakening in his faith’? ‘… he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God’?
It just seemed to me that Paul was doing a nice whitewash job here, a bit of selective memory. But it came to me forcibly recently, once through Geoff Lucas’s bible notes and then again through a totally different source, that scripture is the Word of God. Obvious really! So can the Word of God be a whitewash job, or is it that God has taken Abraham’s sin, in lacking faith, not to mention committing adultery, and dumped it as far as the east is from the west? God promised that Abraham’s faith would be credited to him as righteousness, not that his lack of faith would haunt him for eternity.
So if God can forget the sins of one of the great Patriarchs and fulfil his promise regardless, can’t he do that for each of us? Yes, He can — and He does. We just have to believe it. When we fall flat on our faces yet again, we need to give it to God to deal with, get up and carry on in the sure knowledge that God can not only still use us, He can — and will — fulfil His purpose for our lives. We don’t become useless and God still wants to work with us and loves us enough for our sin not to ruin everything.
That doesn’t give us licence to sin and do just what we like in the sure knowledge that God, like some elderly, forgetful and benevolent Grandad, will just forget it ever happened: that’s not how it works. We still need to acknowledge our sin and recognise that God’s goodness is shown in mercy and love: but if God can forget Abraham’s massive failure so He can forget ours. He won’t even just take the sin we commit in Lowestoft and chuck it in the sea off Barra: his east and west are infinite! And we can be free, not because we deserve it, but because He has decreed it.