Question: "What does it mean that God has removed our sins from us "as far as the east is from the west" (Psalm 103:12)?"
Answer: Psalm 103 is a great song of praise to a gracious and loving God. The psalmist lists many ways that God deals compassionately with His children. Verses 7–12 form a unit within the psalm that focuses on God’s forgiveness of His sinning children:
“He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
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.”
The phrase as far as the east is from the west is meant to communicate in infinite space. East is in one direction, and west is in the other. This is different from north and south—you can travel north only so far (to the geographic north pole) before being forced to travel south; thus, north and south meet at the poles. But east and west never meet; no matter how far you travel east, you will never reach a point at which your next step must be westward. Therefore, God in His wisdom did not say, “As far as north from south”; rather, He said, “As far as east from west.”
In Psalm 103:11, the psalmist mentions another set of directions: up and down. God’s love is “as high as the heavens . . . above the earth.” Again, we have a statement of overwhelming magnitude—something that to the ancients would have truly been incalculable and unimaginable. No matter how far up a person could go, he would never outdistance God’s love.
Corresponding to this thought is the reference to east and west in Psalm 103:12. The idea is that, when God forgives, He really forgives. Our sins have been removed from us as far as is possible to imagine. It is a statement of complete and utter forgiveness. Once our sins have been removed, we will never be held accountable for them. They will never come back to haunt us.
A common theme throughout the Bible is that God has made provision for our sins to be forgiven and for fellowship to be restored with our Creator. The Lord identifies Himself as the One who forgives: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). God promises that, under the New Covenant, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). King Hezekiah praised God for the forgiveness he experienced: “In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back” (Isaiah 38:17). The New Testament details the sacrifice of Christ and points to it as the basis of our freedom from guilt: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The fact that there is “no condemnation” means that those who are in Christ will never have to answer for their sins because Christ has paid the debt already. “How far has the LORD taken our sins from us? Farther than the distance from east to west!” (Psalm 103:12, CEV).