The Cross and the Harmony of God’s Name
“For your name’s sake, O YHWH, pardon my guilt, for it is great.”
– Psalm 25:11
A Counterintuitive Request
The logic in these verses is interesting. In fact, at first glance it seems to be counter intuitive. David asks the Holy One – the Just Judge, the One whose eyes are too pure to look on sin (Habakkuk 1:13) – David asks YHWH to forgive his sins for the sake of His name. So, for the glory of God’s Holy name, David asks God to pardon His guilt. That is strange. You would expect the Holy God to be glorified by punishing guilt, not pardoning it. And what’s more, David implies that pardoning his guilt will especially glorify the Lord’s name because the guilt is so great. Essentially David is saying:
“Holy God, forgive my sins for your glory, because my sins are so great.”
Now, where did David get the boldness and knowledge of God’s character to make such a request? And why does he believe that the pardoning of great guilt would be for the sake of YHWH’s name?
The Name of YHWH
I think we see the answer in Exodus 34:6-7, the Old Testament text where YHWH – with greatest specificity and clarity – declares His name:
“YHWH, YHWH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation (“of those who hate me”, see Exodus 20:5).”
So, integral to the explication of YHWH’s name is that He gracious and merciful, He abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness, and He forgives iniquity, transgression and sin. This statement is His identity, it is what He’s like and who He is in relation to His creation. I believe that David had this name in mind when he penned this prayer.
YHWH’s name is the name of one who forgives sin, therefore, His forgiveness of sin is a manifestation of His Name, and that is why reality exists. God created the universe in order to make Himself known, and David recognizes that when his guilt is pardoned by God, it will ultimately be a manifestation and communication of the Name and Character of God, and so bring Him glory…..When David prays for his great guilt to be pardoned, he is casting himself upon the revealed character of YHWH and pleading for mercy, the giving of which will conform to YHWH’s character and so manifest His Name, that is, His glory. And the greatness of David’s guilt will only serve to more display the greatness of the Name of the One who pardons. God is glorified as the giver of grace.
He Will By No Means Clear the Guilty
But, did David not read on in the description of the Lord’s name? Directly following the promise of forgiveness is the assurance that the guilty will not be cleared. How can David – whose guilt is self-admittedly great – think to find forgiveness from the God who will by no means clear the guilty?
Here I think David was simply trusting that God’s mercy would overcome His judgment…..that grace, not condemnation, was the defining note within the melody of YHWH’s being, and that the Lord would not condemn one who had repented of sin and cast himself wholly on His mercy, pleading for forgiveness. And David was right when he thought this….he was right to come to this gracious and merciful God – who forgives sin and yet does not clear the guilty – and to abandon himself to His grace. However, David – unlike us – most likely did not understand exactly how the apparent dissonance within God (that He forgives sin and yet does not clear the guilty) could be resolved. Sin necessitates guilt, so if God forgives sin, is He not – by definition – clearing the guilty? Again, I don’t think the answer was fully revealed to David. But we who live at this stage of salvation history do, in fact, know. The two “parts” of YHWH’s name in Exodus 34 seem to be playing different and dissonant tunes, but there is one melody that resolves the song of God’s name into a beautiful harmony: The cross of Jesus Christ.
The Cross Harmonizes YHWH’s Name
God forgives sins and yet does not pardon the guilty because YHWH Himself, God the Son, would take on flesh and come into our midst, and HE – the Holy One Himself – would take on the guilt of His people, HE would bear our sins, HE would swallow the consequences, HE would be crushed under our well-deserved wrath, and HE would rise again in victory over death…….Jesus Christ – God the Son, hanging on the cross, bearing our guilt in His flesh and purchasing our purity by His blood – is the harmonization of the Name declared on Sinai so many years before. And Christ’s victorious death is not just the harmonization of YHWH’s Name, but the true and climactic declaration of it. THIS, is our God, THIS is our Creator, THIS is the One whose heart birthed reality and whose love now saves all those who trust in Him, even as His infinite justice is upheld through the absorption of wrath and the damning of sins in His own body.
So, the Lord is indeed the one who forgives all sins – in Christ. And He is also the one who will not clear the guilty since every mote of guilt will be fully punished, either in Christ on the cross, or – may it not be so for any reading these words – in our own bodies in Hell…
Only in the God-Man can the Name of YHWH be understood, only in Christ crucified and risen does the Lord’s self-revelation “make sense.” Jesus is the one who makes it possible for a sinner like David, and like me, to come to the holy God who forgives sin but does not pardon the guilty and to say, “For your name’s sake, O YHWH, pardon my guilt, for it is great!”
Our God is exalted when He shows mercy, and He is glorified and the greatness of His Name is made known when He drowns the Everest of our sins in the Pacific of His cleansing blood. May it be so for us all in Christ.