1-3. (a) What heavy burden did the psalmist David carry, and how did he find comfort for his troubled heart? (b) When we sin, what burden may we carry as a result, but of what does Jehovah assure us?
“MY ERRORS loom over my head,” wrote the psalmist David. “Like a heavy burden, they are too much for me to bear. I have grown numb and become completely crushed.” (Psalm 38:4, 8) David knew how heavy the burden of a guilty conscience could be. But he found comfort for his troubled heart. He understood that while Jehovah hates sin, He does not hate the sinner if that one is truly repentant and rejects his sinful course. With full faith in Jehovah’s willingness to extend mercy to repentant ones, David said: “You, O Jehovah, are . . . ready to forgive.”—Psalm 86:5.
2 When we sin, we too may carry the crushing burden of a pained conscience. This feeling of remorse is healthy. It can move us to take positive steps to correct our mistakes. There is, however, a danger of becoming overwhelmed by guilt. Our self-condemning heart might insist that Jehovah will not forgive us, no matter how repentant we are. If we become “overwhelmed by excessive sadness,” Satan may try to get us to give up, to feel that Jehovah views us as worthless, unfit to serve him.—2 Corinthians 2:5-11.
3 Is that how Jehovah views matters? Not at all! Forgiveness is a facet of Jehovah’s great love. In his Word, he assures us that when we manifest genuine, heartfelt repentance, he is willing to forgive. (Proverbs 28:13) So that Jehovah’s forgiveness never seems unattainable to us, let us examine why and how he forgives.
Why Jehovah Is “Ready to Forgive”
4. What does Jehovah remember about our nature, and how does this affect the way he treats us?
4 Jehovah is aware of our limitations. “He well knows how we are formed, remembering that we are dust,” says Psalm 103:14. He does not forget that we are creatures of dust, having frailties, or weaknesses, as a result of imperfection. The expression that he knows “how we are formed” reminds us that the Bible likens Jehovah to a potter and us to the clay vessels he forms. (Jeremiah 18:2-6) The Great Potter tempers his dealings with us according to the frailty of our sinful nature and the way we respond or fail to respond to his guidance.
5. How does the book of Romans describe sin’s powerful grip?
5 Jehovah understands how powerful sin is. His Word describes sin as a potent force that has man in its deadly grip. Just how strong is sin’s hold? In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul explains: We are “under sin,” as soldiers are under their commander (Romans 3:9); sin has “ruled” over mankind like a king (Romans 5:21); it “resides,” or is “dwelling,” within us (Romans 7:17, 20); its “law” is continually at work in us, in effect trying to control our course. (Romans 7:23, 25) What a powerful hold sin has on our fallen flesh!—Romans 7:21, 24.
6, 7. (a) How does Jehovah view those who seek his mercy with a contrite heart? (b) Why should we not presume on God’s mercy?
6 Hence, Jehovah knows that perfect obedience is not possible for us, no matter how earnestly we may yearn to give it to him. He lovingly assures us that when we seek his mercy with a contrite heart, he will extend forgiveness. Psalm 51:17 says: “The sacrifices pleasing to God are a broken spirit; a heart broken and crushed, O God, you will not reject.” Jehovah will never reject, or turn away, a heart that is “broken and crushed” by the burden of guilt.
7 Does this mean, though, that we can presume on God’s mercy, using our sinful nature as an excuse to sin? Certainly not! Jehovah is not guided by mere sentiment. His mercy has limits. He will by no means forgive those who hardheartedly practice willful sin, not showing any repentance. (Hebrews 10:26) On the other hand, when he sees a contrite heart, he is ready to forgive. Let us now consider some of the expressive language used in the Bible to describe this marvelous facet of Jehovah’s love.
How Completely Does Jehovah Forgive?
8. What does Jehovah, in effect, do when he pardons our sins, and what confidence does this give us?
8 A repentant David said: “Finally I confessed my sin to you; I did not cover my error. . . . And you pardoned the error of my sins.” (Psalm 32:5) The term “pardoned” translates a Hebrew word that basically means “lift up” or “carry.” Its use here signifies to take away “guilt, iniquity, transgression.” So Jehovah, in effect, lifted up David’s sins and carried them away. This no doubt eased the feelings of guilt that David had been carrying. (Psalm 32:3) We too can have full confidence in the God who carries away the sins of those who seek his forgiveness on the basis of their faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice.—Matthew 20:28.
9. How far away from us does Jehovah put our sins?
9 David used another vivid expression to describe Jehovah’s forgiveness: “As far off as the sunrise is from the sunset, so far off from us he has put our transgressions.” (Psalm 103:12) The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. How far is east from west? In a sense, east is always at the utmost distance imaginable from west; the two points can never meet. One scholar notes that this expression means “as far as possible; as far as we can imagine.” David’s inspired words tell us that when Jehovah forgives, he puts our sins as far away from us as we can imagine.
10. When Jehovah forgives our sins, why should we not feel that we bear the stain of such sins for the rest of our life?
10 Have you ever tried to remove a stain from a light-colored garment? Perhaps despite your best efforts, the stain remained visible. Notice how Jehovah describes his capacity for forgiveness: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be made as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson cloth, they will become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18) The word “scarlet” denotes a bright red color.a “Crimson” was one of the deep colors of dyed material. (Nahum 2:3) We can never through our own efforts remove the stain of sin. But Jehovah can take sins that are like scarlet and crimson and make them white like snow or undyed wool. When Jehovah forgives our sins, we need not feel that we bear the stain of such sins for the rest of our life.
11. In what sense does Jehovah throw our sins behind his back?
11 In a moving song of gratitude that Hezekiah composed after he was spared from a deadly sickness, he said to Jehovah: “You have thrown all my sins behind your back.” (Isaiah 38:17) Jehovah is here portrayed as taking the sins of a repentant wrongdoer and throwing them behind Him where He neither sees them nor takes notice of them anymore. According to one source, the idea conveyed may be expressed: “You have made [my sins] as if they had not happened.” Is that not reassuring?
12. How does the prophet Micah indicate that when Jehovah forgives, He removes our sins permanently?
12 In a promise of restoration, the prophet Micah expressed his conviction that Jehovah would forgive his repentant people: “Who is a God like you, . . . passing over the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? . . . You will throw all their sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18, 19) Imagine what those words meant to those living in Bible times. Was there any chance of retrieving something that had been hurled “into the depths of the sea”? Micah’s words thus indicate that when Jehovah forgives, he removes our sins permanently.
13. What is the meaning of Jesus’ words “forgive us our debts”?
13 Jesus drew on the relationship between creditors and debtors to illustrate Jehovah’s forgiveness. Jesus urged us to pray: “Forgive us our debts.” (Matthew 6:12) Jesus thus likened sins to debts. (Luke 11:4) When we sin, we become “debtors” to Jehovah. Regarding the meaning of the Greek verb translated “forgive,” one reference work says: “To let go, give up, a debt, by not demanding it.” In a sense, when Jehovah forgives, he cancels the debt that would otherwise be charged against our account. Repentant sinners can thus take comfort. Jehovah will never demand payment for a debt he has canceled!—Psalm 32:1, 2.
14. The phrase “get your sins blotted out” evokes what mental image?
14 Jehovah’s forgiveness is further described at Acts 3:19: “Repent, therefore, and turn around so as to get your sins blotted out.” That last phrase translates a Greek verb that can mean “to wipe out, . . . cancel or destroy.” According to some scholars, the image expressed is that of erasing handwriting. How was this possible? The ink commonly used in ancient times was made of a mixture that included carbon, gum, and water. Soon after working with such ink, a person could take a wet sponge and wipe the writing away. Therein is a beautiful picture of Jehovah’s mercy. When he forgives our sins, it is as though he takes a sponge and wipes them away.
15. What does Jehovah want us to know about him?
15 When we reflect on these varied word pictures, is it not clear that Jehovah wants us to know that he is truly ready to forgive our sins as long as he finds us sincerely repentant? We need not fear that he will hold such sins against us in the future. This is shown by something else that the Bible reveals about Jehovah’s great mercy: When he forgives, he forgets.
Jehovah wants us to know that he is “ready to forgive”
“I Will No Longer Remember Their Sin”
16, 17. When the Bible says that Jehovah forgets our sins, what does it mean, and why do you so answer?
16 Jehovah promised regarding those in the new covenant: “I will forgive their error, and I will no longer remember their sin.” (Jeremiah 31:34) Does this mean that when Jehovah forgives he is unable to recall sins anymore? That could hardly be the case. The Bible tells us of the sins of many individuals whom Jehovah forgave, including David. (2 Samuel 11:1-17; 12:13) Jehovah is obviously still aware of the errors they committed. The record of their sins, as well as that of their repentance and forgiveness by God, has been preserved for our benefit. (Romans 15:4) What, then, does the Bible mean when it says that Jehovah does not “remember” the sins of those whom he forgives?
17 The Hebrew verb rendered “I will no longer remember” implies more than simply to recall the past. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes that it includes “the additional implication of taking appropriate action.” So in this sense, to “remember” sin involves taking action against sinners. (Hosea 9:9) But when God says “I will no longer remember their sin,” he is assuring us that once he forgives repentant sinners, he will not at some future time act against them because of those sins. (Ezekiel 18:21, 22) Jehovah thus forgets in the sense that he does not bring our sins up again and again in order to accuse or punish us over and over. Is it not comforting to know that our God forgives and forgets?
What About the Consequences?
18. Why does forgiveness not mean that a repentant sinner is exempted from all consequences of his wrong course?
18 Does Jehovah’s readiness to forgive mean that a repentant sinner is exempted from all consequences of his wrong course? Not at all. We cannot sin with impunity. Paul wrote: “Whatever a person is sowing, this he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) We may face certain consequences of our actions. This does not mean that after extending forgiveness Jehovah causes adversity to befall us. When troubles arise, a Christian should not feel, ‘Perhaps Jehovah is punishing me for past sins.’ (James 1:13) On the other hand, Jehovah does not shield us from all the effects of our wrong actions. Divorce, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, loss of trust or respect—all of these may be the sad, unavoidable consequences of sin. Recall that even after forgiving David for his sins in connection with Bath-sheba and Uriah, Jehovah did not protect David from the disastrous consequences that followed.—2 Samuel 12:9-12.
19-21. (a) How did the law recorded at Leviticus 6:1-7 benefit both the victim and the offender? (b) If others have been hurt by our sins, Jehovah is pleased when we take what action?
19 Our sins may have additional consequences, especially if others have been hurt by our actions. Consider, for example, the account in Leviticus chapter 6. The Mosaic Law here addresses the situation wherein a person commits a serious wrong by seizing a fellow Israelite’s goods through robbery, extortion, or fraud. The sinner then denies that he is guilty, even being so daring as to swear falsely. It is one person’s word against another’s. Later, however, the offender becomes stricken in conscience and confesses his sin. To gain God’s forgiveness, he has to do three more things: restore what he had taken, pay the victim a fine totaling 20 percent of the value of the stolen items, and provide a ram as a guilt offering. Then, the law says: “The priest will make atonement for him before Jehovah, and he will be forgiven.”—Leviticus 6:1-7.
20 This law was a merciful provision from God. It benefited the victim, whose property was returned and who no doubt felt much relief when the offender finally acknowledged his sin. At the same time, the law benefited the one whose conscience at last moved him to admit his guilt and correct his wrong. Indeed, if he refused to do so, there would be no forgiveness for him from God.
21 Although we are not under the Mosaic Law, that Law gives us insight into Jehovah’s mind, including his thinking on forgiveness. (Colossians 2:13, 14) If others have been hurt by our sins, God is pleased when we do what we can to right the wrong. (Matthew 5:23, 24) This may involve acknowledging our sin, admitting our guilt, and even apologizing to the victim. Then we can appeal to Jehovah on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice and experience the assurance that we have been forgiven by God.—Hebrews 10:21, 22.
22. What may accompany Jehovah’s forgiveness?
22 Like any loving parent, Jehovah may offer forgiveness along with a measure of discipline. (Proverbs 3:11, 12) A repentant Christian may have to relinquish his privilege of serving as an elder, a ministerial servant, or a full-time evangelizer. It may be painful for him to lose for a period of time privileges that were precious to him. Such discipline, however, does not mean that Jehovah has withheld forgiveness. We must remember that discipline from Jehovah is proof of his love for us. Accepting and applying it is in our best interests.—Hebrews 12:5-11.
23. Why should we never conclude that we are beyond the reach of Jehovah’s mercy, and why should we imitate his forgiveness?
23 How refreshing to know that our God is “ready to forgive”! Despite the mistakes we may have made, we should never conclude that we are beyond the reach of Jehovah’s mercy. If we truly repent, take steps to right the wrong, and earnestly pray for forgiveness on the basis of Jesus’ shed blood, we can have full confidence that Jehovah will forgive us. (1 John 1:9) Let us imitate his forgiveness in our dealings with one another. After all, if Jehovah, who does not sin, can so lovingly forgive us, should not we sinful humans do our best to forgive one another?
a One scholar says that scarlet “was a fast, or fixed colour. Neither dew, nor rain, nor washing, nor long usage, would remove it.”