The Fear of Forgiveness

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A Sermon on Psalm 130:3–6.

“There is forgiveness with thee that thou mayest be feared” (Ps. 130:4, KJV).

Is that not an odd thing to say? Should it not rather be: there is forgiveness with thee that thou mayest be loved? Or at least, “celebrated”? Or maybe even: there is forgiveness with thee that we may heave a sigh of relief?

Where is the fear in it? I expect we get some clue in the verse that follows. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word, I hope; My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning” (Ps. 130:5–6). Why the waiting? Surely it is that forgiveness is an event, a deed, a concrete happening, not simply an idea, or something like a permanent characteristic, or an attribute. One doesn’t have to wait for an idea, or a characteristic, or an attribute, they are always there. And you see, if it is a deed, then it might, or it might not happen. There’s the rub. We are put in the position of having to wait and see, to wait on the present moment. All sorts of things could happen. All sorts of things could go wrong. I might shirk my calling and not say it, or you might think it presumptuous for me to claim to be able to say it, or think it irrelevant, or something you have heard too many times before, or turn away, or misuse it, or just not hear it. And the moment could be eternally lost. It is a fearsome thing that God elects actually to do the deed, and that everything is poured into just this moment.

But there is nothing then for us to do but to venture forth into the fearful moment. So listen! You have confessed your sin so I must say the words as I am bidden: I declare unto you the forgiveness of all your sin, in the name of the one with whom there is forgiveness, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now the deed is done. You have heard it and you can come and taste it. The waiting is over. Nothing is left now but the fearing. Amen.

This sermon has been submitted by Lutheran Quarterly in appreciative memory of Marianna Forde, who died on October 3, 2021. She made sure that many of Gerhard Forde’s sermons appeared in print, and requested that this one in particular be shared.