Denise Wood’s Psalm 103 reflection
Psalm 103, verses 1—14
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
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The Lord works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
14 For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.
I sort of backed my way into the challenge of identifying a favorite psalm. “Psalms” are often songs of praise. So as I read through the book of Psalms, #103 immediately triggered memories of “Oh Bless the Lord My Soul” from Godspell, a favorite song of mine. Now my sister knows all the words of all the songs, but I just know the catchy bits, all the “Oh Bless the Lords”. I hum or make up the rest. I guess I’m just more focused on the rhythm, melody, and harmonies.
Because this song is joyful and almost raucous in performance and because I didn’t really pay attention to the words, I associated it with the beauty that we see every day— a shout out to God the Creator. That joyous a song must be about the feeling of watching the snow making everything pristine for a moment, or admiring the spring flowers emerge, or the immensity of a clear night sky. I appreciate and am inspired by God the Creator.
But reading the psalm and the song, it’s actually more about God the Father, the compassionate parent. It speaks to a relationship involving love, promise, and obligation. Because God so loves us, he will care for us, and also has expectations of us.
Our Sunday School class has been reading Exodus with Marty Stevens. It’s been a lot of fun, and I think we’re all learning a lot. We’re not done, but so far, it’s one story after another about God demonstrating his awesome works, his love and care, and also about how he expects us to respond and behave.
God gives Moses instructions about actions the people of Israel should take to avoid the curses of the plagues. There are instructions about eating the manna in the desert, and taking only what was needed for a single day. There are the 10 commandments, and much more, all while God is providing for his people, guiding them, and delivering on his promises.
But even though God is clear about the terms of the relationship, the children of Israel keep forgetting, they are continually distracted by hunger, thirst, or the next shiny thing. God the parent has to pull their attention back time and time again. But the thing is, he knows this about his people, his children; they are imperfect, we’re imperfect. He is patient and gives them—and us—a lot of slack.
So back to the psalm. This is a psalm attributed to David. With all our Sunday School discussions in mind, I can imagine David taking all that has been handed down over the centuries and distilling it into a song for himself and his people, that exhorts them to remember to bless the Lord. We may be forgetful in showing our love for God, but his love for us endures. The psalm helps us remember both sides of the equation.
So now I know all the words to “Oh bless the Lord My Soul”; I don’t have to hum the bits I don’t know anymore.
And the song and the psalm have new meaning for me, as a reminder of God’s steadfast love.