For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:11-12).
This verse is a cool drink of grace for someone sweating under the intense heat of sin. It is freeing for someone struggling under the oppressive weight of guilt. It is refreshing, like a gust of cool air, for someone suffocating from shame and embarrassment.
How far is the east from the west? Well, that can't be calculated. The distance is impossible to measure. Not only is the east far from the west, it runs in a different direction, meaning the two can never meet. "East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet" (Kipling, "The Ballad of East and West").
That means that when God removes our sin, it is so far away from us it can never entangle and ensnare us again. It is gone and traveling in an opposite direction from us. Never shall we meet that sin again.
Of course, we will likely sin again. That is why we keep a penitent heart. That is why we keep crying out, "Lord, forgive me (us)." In his kindness God keeps forgiving! "He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities" (Psalm 103:10). In his grace he removes our sin as far away from us as the east is from the west.
There is another angle to this verse. In the original language of the Old Testament the word for "from us" also means "from himself" — i.e., God has removed the sin from us personally and from our relationship with him, as well (Holladay, "Psalms Through 3,000 Years," p.325). So, not only does God remove our sin "from us," he also removes it from himself. Our forgiven sin is as far from God as the east is distanced from the west. Our forgiven sin is completely and irrevocably removed from God's presence. Do you realize how powerful that reality is?
Now there is a good reason for guilt. Guilt is the realization that we are sinners. It can be the motivating factor that drives us to our knees before a trusted friend to pour out our hearts. It is the driving force behind our cry for mercy before the throne of God. Guilt moves us back to God and opens the door for our sin to be forgiven and hearts cleansed. But once we have poured out our hearts to a Christian brother or sister and to God, guilt has served its purpose. The sin behind the guilt has been sent east as we travel west. We need to send our shame packing with it. If we don't trust God to remove our guilt from us, it can become toxic and become personal shame.
Because of shame, a husband could not look his wife in the eye and beg, "I am sorry for my sin, please forgive me." He left her instead. Shame caused an abused 14 year old girl to abort her baby and begin a run of dangerous relationships for ten years. Shame drove a young drug addict, whose baby ate some of her drugs, to the brink of insanity because of her irresponsibility.
I wish I could go back to all three of these people and say, "Hey, guess what! God can remove your sin. And with that, he can remove your guilt. When he removes it from you, he also removes it from his presence. That means God welcomes you into his presence. There is not one sin, not one bad decision, not one instance of abuse that you have suffered, that has to keep you from the loving compassion of God."
"As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from himself."
That means we can lift our heads, look God in the eye, and say, "Thank you!" It means we can live again, without the shame!