The Infinite Love and Mercy of
God as Expressed in Psalm 103
(Copyright©2020 by Daniel B. Sedory)


    To explore all that Psalm 103 has to say about the blessings of God in more detail, I'd heartily recommend listening to this sermon by John MacArthur: Remembering All His Benefits • Psalm 103.

    In verses 11-12, the Holy Spirit writing through David provides us with two illustrations of God's committed love and complete forgiveness of all our sins which, as MacArthur (or "John" in what follows) says, "are the most perfect illustrations you could find in human language."

The second of these two illustrations is:

As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12; NAU)” — emphasis mine.

    The phrase, “As far as the east is from the west,” occurs only here in Scripture, and as far as I've been able to determine it's not found anywhere else independent of Psalm 103. And as we'll see shortly, it must have been the Spirit of God who gave David an illustration of infinity in this phrase. My explanation here begins by asking: Could the psalmist have added 'and as far as the north is from the south' to this verse? Well, no. God knows that a person heading north or south (with the proper life-sustaining gear) will eventually reach the 'North' or 'South' poles; at which point, going any further, means they would be moving in the opposite direction! The North and South poles are literally as far as one can go in those directions; so in that regard, it could never be more than the distance between them. Is there such a thing as the East or West pole? Of course not.

    I have no idea if David believed the earth was a sphere, but he did know that whenever someone traveled further east or west, the point at which the sun rose or set got further and further away from wherever one began, so he may have inferred it was from that or from watching a ship slowly disappear from the bottom up beyond the horizon of the Mediterranean Sea. Today we know there is no location on earth one can point to and say, ‘This is where east (or west) ends.’ Why? Because east and west are directions! So this illustration is indeed one which tells us about the infinite Mercy and Grace of God, because no matter how many times you circle the earth heading east or west, you can do so in a direction that's opposite to the other into infinity![1] Therefore, east and west are as far apart as anything could ever be. At least 340 years ago (having died in 1680), Stephen Charnock said, "The east and west are the greatest distance in the world; the terms can never meet together. When sin is pardoned, it is never charged again; the guilt of it can no more return, than east can become west, or west become east."[2] and that will always be true.

    My main reason for writing the above was because the only thing John had to say about this was: "Line going in two opposite directions, go into infinity." (And watching the video, you'll see he held up both thumbs and moved them in opposite directions while speaking.) Having only that to go on, it could easily appear that John was talking about a straight line heading off into space in opposite directions. But I believe he simply expected all of us to see that line as infinitely wrapping around the earth, since the terms east and west, even today, have no meaning in space; only on the surface of earth (or some other rotating objects we may apply them to, such as the moon).

Now we'll comment on the first illustration of infinity in Psalm 103:

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him (Psalm 103:11; NAU)” — emphasis mine.

    Let's take a look at how the word "heavens" (שָׁמַיִם; shāmayim) is used in Scripture: In the simple prefatory statement on all Creation, we have in Genesis 1:1, "the heavens and the earth" which refers to everything God created in the physical universe. But in many passages, such as Psalm 104:12a (“Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell;”), it's clear that "heavens" may refer to only that part above the earth which we call the sky (or the atmosphere). In other contexts, the word is used of what we would call space. For example, in Genesis 1:14-17, "the expanse of the heavens" seems to refer to wherever God placed his newly created “lights” — the sun, moon and all the stars; that is, everything in the physical universe apart from the earth and its atmosphere. But "heavens" (shāmayim) is also used when describing where God dwells (Deuteronomy 26:15; 1 Kings 8:30); though these and other such descriptions are often a condescension from reality for the human mind that still today can barely begin to comprehend the vastness of the physical universe which God created. As creatures we are bound by the three dimensions of the space we all live in, and cannot truly imagine anything apart from it; if we try, the words we must use will betray the fact we cannot do so. Perhaps stating, ‘God dwells outside of his Creation’ is the best we can do. Yet God is immediately present everywhere and cannot be confined by anything: “"Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?" declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:24; NAU)”

    In Isaiah 55:8-9, we have a passage describing another attribute of God: “"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” — emphasis mine. This usage of "heavens" could be understood metaphorically as meaning something that will always be beyond whatever humans will ever think or accomplish, but I'd like to think of it as a reference to the heaven where God existed ‘outside of, and before, creating the physical Universe’. And because Psalm 103 itself contains such a reference (“The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all. (Ps 103:19; NAU),” I believe we should also see verse 11 as the infinity which separates both our minds and our physical universe from God's mind and the heaven where only he could dwell before Creation.

    I wrote the words above, because John actually said so little about how infinite God's love truly is. He started to do so by providing us with a physical distance, saying: "The latest NASA stat tells us that they think they know where the edge of the universe is, and they suggest this: If you go 186,000 miles a second, which is the speed of light, you could reach the end of the known universe in 225 trillion years." In fact, that's much farther than NASA has ever claimed it to be, and here's the reason: That value has nothing to do with the speed of light, but rather mankind's rocket technology in 2014.[3] The value you'll find in in multiple sources over the past decade for the distance to the edge of the known universe is 46.6 billion light-years.[4] Yet that was all John said about God's love being infinite. But there is no number, distance or time you could ever dream of that comes close to equaling infinity or eternity!  However, John's concluding statement about this illustration is well worth repeating:

"He loves us with a committed and covenant love that is infinite; has no bounds. ... It's so stunning and so staggering, that you might wonder if it's actually true. But God wants to illustrate His love for us in an infinite way."

    Charnock said, "Since his majesty is infinite, his mercy must be as great as his majesty."[5]

    I'll finish with a similar thought: God loves his Believers and has mercy upon them to the same extent that his thoughts and ways are higher than ours! (Compare the words here in Psalm 103:11 with these: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth” in Isaiah 55:9.)

 

 

[If this essay has blessed you in any way, it's purely the work of the Holy Spirit and none of my own - TheStarman.]

 


Footnotes

1[Return to Text]  Note: Someone might object and bring up the fact that sailors (or anyone with a global positioning 'App' today) can tell you where they are in terms of so many degrees, minutes and seconds 'East' or 'West' and once you have gone a certain distance (no more than half-way around the globe), you'll find yourself using an 'E' or 'W' designation that's opposite to the one you started with. But this is purely arbitrary. When mankind first decided how such locations should be designated, they arbitrarily chose the 'prime meridian' (or zero degrees) to be a line running through Greenwich, England, with measurements 'East' or 'West' of Greenwich ceasing at 180 degrees. However, as I've already pointed out, those are locations not directions. If you continue heading east (or west) through 180 degrees; no matter what 'E' or 'W' longitudes appear on a map or GPS device, you will still be heading in that direction; not its opposite, no matter how many times you circle the earth.

2[Return to Text]  Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God (1979 Reprint by Baker Book House Company of the Robert Carter & Brothers, 1853 edition. ISBN: 0-8010-2437-4; picture), Volume 2, Discourse XIII, On God's Dominion, p. 358.   There are many editions of Charnock's works, and archive.org has many copies as well. Here's the best example I could find (as both searchable online and offline in a free PDF download): Volume 2 (1853 Edition)! This has the same page numbers as in my hardcopy edition. You can also download: Volume 1 (1853 Edition) as well.

3[Return to Text]  This value did not come from any official statement by NASA, but rather a misinterpretation of a newspaper article written by the "Weather/Science/Climate/Space Reporter" Doyle Rice, for USA Today. In fact, Mr. Rice never claimed that his value for how long it would take to reach the edge of the universe using "our current level of technology" came from NASA; only that NASA was one of his sources (which included: "Universe Today [a space and astronomy site], NASA, Phil Plait [an astronomer and writer] and Slate [an online magazine]") for the six different locations he wrote about in his article, so it could have come from any of the other three, or had even been a value he computed himself. [Note: Rice's article appears to have had all of its content removed from USA Today's archives (and although I found a cached copy from Google, I can no longer see any content there as well. However, just recently (07-02-2020), I was able to find a copy of it here: eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/05/02/space-day-distances/8618041/. But if that copy gets pulled as well, or you wish to read some of my notes about the article: here's a copy I made purely for academic research.)]

NASA has officially stated that it took "the light [from the edge of the observable universe] nearly 14 billion years to reach us" on this web page: How Big Is Our Universe - NASA. However, that evolutionary estimate for the age of the universe which is ever expanding, allows them to compute its current distance from us as 46.6 billon light-years. (See note 4 below.)

There were only two other sources I found; apart from John's sermon (and those now copying what he said), where the phrase "225 trillion light-years" occurs. If you look at the following, it seems likely that someone took Leith Cunningham's misinterpretation of Doyle Rice's article (all of which Cunningham did copy correctly to his own web page) as being a known fact, so perhaps that's how it ended up in John MacArthur's sermon: Article by Leith Lyman Cunningham 1/1/2017.
(I've added an annotated copy of the relevant paragraphs from Mr. Cunningham's article here.) Unfortunately, others are now copying these words from pastor MacArthur’s sermon and repeating them as fact without ever verifying what they say or write about it.

4[Return to Text]  For example, Wikipedia's article: Observable universe or this one from the BBC: Now We Know the Size of the Universe and numerous others.

5[Return to Text]  Stephen Charnock, ibid., page 359.

 


I revised this essay the same day I published it, after finally noticing that Doyle Rice never stated the edge of the universe was 225 trillion light years away, but rather that it would ideally take "225 trillion years" for say an un-manned probe to reach it [though further study shows that's impossible, and likely why it was removed from USA Today].

Slightly revised again on 18 MAY 2020; with addition of Stephen Charnock quotes.


 

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