When Psalm 139 was written, attributed to David, there was a sense of how special human beings are. This might come as a surprise when we see how some human beings treat each other and how badly they behave in general. This might also surprise us as we look at ourselves, and at how sometimes we do life. Especially so, if we translate as some suggest verse 14 should be, “I am awesomely wonderful”. But this is in our creation, and in our redeemed potential, not necessarily in the reality of certain moments. David himself had plenty of moments when his life was far from ‘awesomely wonderful’. These verses, especially verses 13-14, simply, but also deeply, express the human ideal – the potential of how a human life looks in the hands of God … intelligently formed, wonderfully made, intricately woven, lovingly overseen.
This is the same human ideal we read about in Genesis – that we were all made in God’s image … male and female created in God’s likeness (Genesis 1:26-27); this creativity described as “very good” (1:31), so well engineered were we, that we were given the collective responsibility for caring for all the rest of God’s creation (1:28). All of the water under the bridge does not deny the great human potential encased in God’s design. Despite all of life’s bruises and dark experiences, we can return to how God views all people of his creation. Each of our senses of self-worth should be lifted by this psalm’s view of humanity. Potentially, each life is a gift to the earth, and a gift to each other. We each have a destiny in God’s purposes, prior even to our birth.
But then, something goes wrong! Despite the original perfection of God’s creation, the accumulating indifference towards God in this world brings pressure upon our decision-making. The glorious freewill we have been given through which to choose God for ourselves, also means that we can choose against God. We want control ourselves, we think we can do it better; and we reach out and take our own apple from the tree … the only tree from which we were forbidden … the tree that displaces God out of our lives. At some point, each of us steps aside, as our human freewill intersects with a world that tempts us to put ourselves into number one position. And at that point, we start to lose our way. Not only do we start to lose track of God, but we also compromise all of the relationships in our life. Once we are in the centre (rather than God) we lose our contact with the needs of others, and our sense of the common good.
Life can take us to some very dark places, not only through our own poor decisions, but also sometimes because of what other people have done to us. But this is never the last word on life, because God has not lost interest in us. In this fact, there is great hope. When the first disciples had lost hope (because their master and friend had been crucified), Jesus rose from the dead! Bright hope resurfaced out of the gloom. God never loses track of us! God never forgets us. We may head off in our own direction, but God always knows where we are. “All our hidden motives and fears are like an open book before God; he knows where they came from, and he understands what they are doing to us and what we are doing with them” (NT Wright). God is never far away!
Even if we make our bed amongst the dead (as per the metaphor in v.8b), God can find us. God has been drawn to the places we have gone, and can be found there still claiming our heart. Why?? Because as we saw in verses 13-16, God has a large investment in how our lives turn out – this makes God’s interest in us inevitable. When we invest our money into something, it is very natural to take a very keen interest in the progress of our investment. So it is, with God’s investment in our creation.
None of this is expressed to bring us into fear, nor to make us cower in the light of God’s presence, nor to make us feel horrible about ourselves. It’s just that life is such a struggle without God! Each of us has a void that only God can fill; but too, happily, each of us also has a capacity for a personal relationship with God. These words are expressed in this way so that we might feel encouraged and welcomed back into God’s family. God’s presence and close interest is NOT a negative threat, but rather a positive blessing and an open ongoing opportunity!
No matter how far we think we may have strayed, God remains lovingly available. God is bending close, not to catch us out, but rather to express his love. We might wonder how God can pull this off!?! Personal and informed interest in over 6 billion people all at once! But I think those of us with personal relationships and deep experiences with God could attest to the truth of this. God has found us where we are, when we have needed him the most.
Now, there is no price to be paid to re-enter God’s family … that Jesus has not already paid on our behalf. God’s graceful closeness reminds us of the free access we have to God. So, indeed, we don’t have to fear God’s closeness. God knows us through and through at all levels, and stills wants to be in relationship with us. God fully understands all our difficulties, circumstances and relational tensions, and just wants to help us forward. The book of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus, in his human life, experienced temptation, testing, rejection, disappointment, misunderstanding, grief, betrayal and torture, so he can certainly empathise with us. Then Jesus took all human burdens with him to the cross, such was his love for us.
“The realisation of being known so fully and yet loved so uniquely by God, is wonderful good news indeed” (Frances Hogan). Yet, through encountering God in this way, we are faced with the need to change. We would become unsettled at the state of lives. We would want to embrace that human potential and God-given destiny created within us. We sense something of what is missing. And this can all be solved by accepting what Jesus has done of our behalf. Forgiveness is there for the taking. Healing and renewal is at hand through the Holy Spirit. A daily relationship with God is established.
When the psalmist considers God’s closeness and availability, he acknowledges (in verse 10) the great worth of God’s guidance (“… even there your hand shall lead me”) and God’s guardianship (“your right hand shall hold me fast”). Guidance and guardianship are the blessings of a daily relationship with God. We are truly part of God’s family, and are ready to listen to God’s voice of reason. Just as a parent should guide their children toward maturity, God (through Jesus) can guide each of us into spiritual blessing. God has made all of this possible … first through our very life, and then secondly, through an invitation into his family – our decision is whether we want to be a part of it. A decision of whether we come to Jesus just like a little child - with humility, openness, teachability, trust (Mark 10:13-16).
I just want to go back to verse 16. God already knows how the days of our lives will pan out (refer v.16b). This is in NO way pre-determined, but rather a foreknowledge that will allow God to prepare us (if we are willing) in such a way that we will be able to cope, even excel, through all the challenges of life.
It’s like God being a couple of pages ahead in the book of our lives … wanting to draw us into the best case scenarios. God knows what we will face, what we can learn out of it, how we can grow through it, the purpose we can fulfil, and thus be constantly nurturing and preparing us. I reckon that every experience I have had in my life up until this moment, is in preparation for what the next day will bring.
For those of us well on the way, I give you verses 17 and 18. The more we seek God, the more there is to learn. We should not be satisfied with the milk of our infancy, but rather chew on the meat found in the depths of God. God’s thoughts are more than the sum total of the grains of sand on earth. Now that is vast! We should be now setting our minds on an ongoing journey of discovery, where we can ultimately say, “I come to the end – I am still with you”.
I have continued to seek God’s thoughts … “I come to the end – I am still with you”. Will we be able to say this?!? This then leads into an eternity that reveals even more of God than we had ever imagined.
God loves you with a love that just does not dim. There is nothing ever standing in your way (that can't be adequately dealt with). God’s interest has never faded. Hebrews 4:16 reads, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”. With "boldness"? Yes, with "boldness", because we belong there ... at God's throne of grace!