But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. Psalm 130:4 ESV
May be feared – YHWH pardons! Rejoice! YHWH is salah. I can be straightened.
But this is no surprise to the serpent, and he is prepared to manipulate YHWH’s pardon for his purposes. Never underestimate the craftiness of the yetzer ha’ra. After all, you have been training it all your life. There isn’t anything you can devise to fool it into cooperating. When it comes to the yetzer ha’ra, the only line of defense is “No!”
The serpent, through the yetzer ha’ra, simply suggests that if you aren’t going to delay your repentance, if you are really going to take YHWH’s offer of pardon, then you haven’t fully appreciated your past unfaithfulness to this gracious offer. The serpent reminds you that you have been here before – and you have failed to live up to your end of the bargain. In fact, many times before. So what makes you confident that this will be any different? In a little while, you will once more slip back into the dark. Oh, of course you are sincere now, but you have always been sincere when it came to the point of agonizing distress. And what happened? You failed! That’s because (and you should know this by now) you are a failure. You just can’t keep God’s instructions. Everyone knows this. Even your theology professors taught you that no one can keep all the commandments. So, here you are again, trying to convince yourself that you will stay on the straight and narrow. But don’t you already know you are lying to yourself? Every bit of your history says this is a lie. You will fall again, and because you will fall again, the pain will be even worse, knowing that you have fallen again! Why pretend? Why be convicted of another misstep? Why add arrogance to your list of sins? Just admit you aren’t any good and live with it.
In order to overcome this seduction, I must recognize the importance of the last two words in this verse. lema’an tivare’ (in order that you may be feared). We don’t think of pardon and forgiveness as the grounds for yare’ (fear). We think that pardon and forgiveness are “Get out of Jail Free” cards. They are the reason for celebration, for joy and relief. And they are, but not without consequences. Sin has consequences. We are quite familiar with that arrangement. But pardon also has consequences and unless we fully understand these consequences, we will be seduced by the serpent’s voice into imaging that forgiveness brings a return to life before distress. Forgiveness is about return, but not to the life we once had. It is a return to God’s highway, a walk on the elevated roadway of the King. I don’t go back to myself! I go back to the Lord!
To experience pardon or forgiveness is to become aware of the debt and the debit. Both affect the balance sheet. Forgiveness isn’t free! Once I realize and account for the cost of my forgiveness, I discover the fear of YHWH. And that reminds me of the parable of the unforgiving servant where unworthiness resulted in the offer being withdrawn.
Topical Index: forgiveness, salah, fear, yare’, debt, Psalm 130:4, Matthew 18:21-35