Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” Like many praise hymns in the book of Psalms, Psalm 103 begins with a call to worship, both for the community being called into worship and for the speaker himself doing the calling. May every single piece of our existence reach out to you, God, with praise and adoration and joy! But no hymn in the Psalms ends here. Now must come the litany of reasons why God is so abundantly praiseworthy, why God fully deserves every sweet, thankful, loving word we can give him. So in Psalm 103, we bless God because he:
Forgives our iniquity.
Heals our diseases.
Rescues us from death and despair.
Crowns us with unfailing love and mercy.
Satisfies us with good things.
Pursues justice for those who need it most.
Keeps his anger for only a little while, but his love, mercy, and grace forever.
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Ps 103:3-12)
What is our experience of these things? of forgiveness and healing and grace?
At this point Psalm 103 gives itself a little challenge. How might we take this infinitely praiseworthy God, and sum him up in a single word? Such a task seems impossible and maybe foolish too. Of course, it is ultimately impossible (no single word can truly capture the fullness of God), and sometimes foolish. We might find ourselves attempting to shackle God within some idea that makes us comfortable, which never works in the end. But at the same time, isn’t it the purpose of language, of poetry, to take the infinite and dress it in that which speaks to the simplest part of our humanity? Thus Psalm 103 finds its single word, a word which could never describe God in his fullness, and yet somehow does it anyway. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.”
All this praiseworthy behavior, the forgiveness, the healing, the desire to give good things – we’ve just been talking about a father this whole time, about a dad who loves his kids. Now Psalm 68 joins in on the praise. “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.” (Ps 68:5-6) God is a father who creates a reality of belonging for those who struggle to belong. God is a father who gives a home to the homeless.
The compassion and forgiveness of God, the belonging, security and abundance that God provides – it flows naturally out of who he is as a father. It is the love and compassion and abundance that brought us into existence and takes us by the hand every day. We fathers have a high bar set for us, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.