The Inescapable God

Psalm 139

A few months ago, I made the leap – I bought a smart phone. I love my smart phone, but a smart phone in the hands of a dumb person is a dangerous weapon. The other day, I was talking on the phone and they asked me a question that I had to consult Diana about. I held the phone up against my chest, thinking I was blocking the microphone (like you would with a regular desk telephone receiver), when I heard coming from my phone the other person’s voice: “I can hear you, you know.” Oops! I wasn’t saying anything I wouldn’t want them to hear, but I assumed I was keeping my conversation private.

Privacy is something we probably assume too much. We do a pretty good job of hiding our secrets, but the truth is – people probably know more about us than we think they do.

Our privacy is slipping away from us: I don’t worry that much about the NSA eavesdropping on my phone calls, but I still get nervous when I type in my credit card number to purchase something online. I saw one of those investigative news reports about how someone who wants to can find out exactly where I am and what I’m doing just by the code my phone attaches to the photos I take. And do I really need to have a full body scan every time I go through TSA security at the airport? There’s a TV show called Person of Interest in which a computer monitors the activities of everyone through all of the security cameras that exist throughout the nation. It’s fiction (I hope), but it’s not all that unbelievable. There’s always someone watching.

Like my little mishap with my phone, we try to do that with God. We get caught up in this conversation with temptation: “You want me to do what? I couldn’t do that. You will? Ooh, I never thought about that. Well, I wouldn’t want to disappoint God. He wouldn’t? You mean we could keep that just between us? Hold on, I’ve got another call coming in… Oh, God? I was just thinking about you. Say, can you hold on, I’m on another call, I’ll be right back…. Okay, temptation, we’re good to go – when and where? Oh, is that still you God? I didn’t mean for you to hear that.”

I know that sounds absurd. But I’m guessing we’ve all had that idea that somehow God won’t know what we’re doing. We think we’re putting him on hold while we sin, thinking we’ve pulled something over on God.

David (that’s King David) had that thought a time or two. I don’t have to remind you of the disastrous results. But in David’s better moments he thought about the very thing we’re thinking about this morning, and it came out in the words of Psalm 139. Psalm 139 is David’s reminder that when we think we know God, it is God who really know us – warts and all – and loves and cares for us in spite of it – and for some this is an incredible revelation. Our assumption is that if people (and God) really knew us, they wouldn’t like us anymore. And the truth is, there isn’t anything that can be known about you that God doesn’t know, and it doesn’t diminish his love for you at all.

I would like us to spend some time in that amazing psalm this morning, because I think that’s a message we need to hear: that God knows us and loves us. This is a psalm, written by David, not about God, but to God. It is in essence a prayer to God.

It begins with a recognition of God’s personal knowledge of us: O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Seek God? God has already searched for us and found us! The psalm begins with search and ends with search – God no more need to search, than he has to come down from heaven to investigate.

In poetic language, David draws a picture of the most intimate relationship one could imagine. God is ever present, always aware, never taken off guard.

Knowing us as he does, God puts the necessary controls in our lives – David says “You hem me in – behind and before.” The Law and the commands are not intended to restrict and suck the joy out of life – they are intended to protect and keep us on the path that leads to the greatest kind of joy and the fullest kind of life.

And as David considers God’ perfect, complete knowledge of him, it does not frighten him, but fills him with awe.

David next considers God’s constant presence: Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

David’s question is: “Where can I go to get away from you, God?” Wasn’t that Jonah’s predicament? How can I get away from God? In the ancient world, people often saw their gods as local, provincial deities, whose authority and power ended at the border (kind of like the sheriff chasing the Duke boys – if only they could make it to the county line, they could pull up and thumb their noses at them.)

David dispels that thinking. If I go to the heavens –YOU! If I sleep in the depths – YOU! If I go to the far side of the sea – YOU! There isn’t anywhere you can go where God isn’t.

And so, our often asked question, “Where is God when…” (when I’m fighting a losing battle with cancer, when I suffer through the loss of my spouse, when my husband or wife betrays me) Where is God when I need him? God is never absent. Even when we feel like he is nowhere to be found, his promise is that he is always near.

David says, “even there your hand will guide me.” In God’s people, there is always a willingness – even when we are in the wrong – for God to make us right.

Jeremiah wrote: I know, O LORD, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps. Correct me, LORD, but only with justice—not in your anger,
lest you reduce me to nothing. (Jer 10:23)
Jesus said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:19-21)
The Hebrews writer reminds us: For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. // Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb 4:12-13)

We start to realize that David’s not thinking about how to get away from God’s presence, he’s praising God because God is always with him wherever he is. God doesn’t abandon him when he’s in the midst of battle and needs him, or when he’s in the cave, discouraged because of Saul’s relentless pursuit. And if you were to press him on this, yes, he’s glad God doesn’t give up on him even when he sins. Remember his words in Psalm 32: Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. // Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”— and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

David wants God present in his life, in good and bad, comforting him in his sorrow, chastising him in his sins, lifting him up in his weaknesses. He wants to know that God is there.

In this third section of the psalm, David marvels at God’s intricate handiwork: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.

This is beautiful poetry and great theology. How do you know it’s true? One of the greatest proofs of God’s reality – his creation, his presence, his care – is the design of our bodies.

This is not “Mother Nature” at work, certainly not an evolutionary accident of mutation or random chance. God is a careful, skilled artist, who has designed us and put us together, and knows how we work.

When David says, “all the days ordained for me before one of them came to be,” again, he’s praising God for his direction and guidance in our lives. This isn’t a predestined determinism, but a loving, intimate knowledge of every moment in our day, and every day in our lives.

And then in verse 17, when David writes, How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you. This is David’s thankful praise for this intimate, personal care that God has – not just for “the world,” but for him as an individual.

This fourth section is a curious break from his poetic thoughts about God’s presence, but it is a reminder that we live in the real world, and God is concerned about our real problems. And David’s real problem is that he has enemies out there who want him dead. And God, I know you’re bigger and stronger than my enemies: If only you would slay the wicked, O God! Away from me, you bloodthirsty men! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD, and abhor those who rise up against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.

David calls down God’s just vengeance upon his enemies. This is one of those psalms that we feel a little uncomfortable with – are Christians even supposed to think like this? What about loving my enemies and turning the other cheek?

Understand, this is not David’s bloodthirsty appeal for revenge and vindication, but for protection. He does not threaten personal vengeance. He leaves that to God.

His feelings, though, of anger and hatred are just as real. And maybe you’ve had a feeling or two like this about the folks who don’t like you.

Why is this kind of language even in scripture? To let us know that God knows us, even our unspeakable thoughts, the kind we are prone to smooth over, sweep under the rug, pretend we don’t have.

But David displays to us that God knows us completely and wants us to share every dark corner, every locked closet in our lives with him – that he is not surprised or shocked at anything he finds there.

And finally, David comes back to where he began. Only now it’s not a statement but a request. He began, O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.

Now, he says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

What begins with a recognition, concludes with an invitation. Not only does David acknowledge God’s presence, he invites him in.

His presence can mean an embracing sense of security, or a fear-filled sense of dread. We can fear his presence, and live in dread and guilt and shame, trying to hide from God that which he has always known. Or we can acknowledge his presence, invite his introspection in our lives and enjoy the kind of carefree living that comes to those who have nothing to hide – and are truly known by God.

Two children, Johnny and Sally were visiting their grandparents on their farm out in the country. During that visit, Johnny was given his first slingshot. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit his target. As he came back to Grandma’s back yard, he spied her pet duck. On an impulse he took aim and let fly. The stone hit, and the duck fell dead.  The boy panicked. Desperately he hid the dead duck in the wood pile, only to look up and see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing. After lunch that day, Grandma said, “Sally, let’s wash the dishes.” But Sally said, “Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen today. Didn’t you Johnny?” And she whispered to him, “Remember the duck!” So Johnny did the dishes.
Later, Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing. Grandma said, “I’m sorry, but I need Sally to help me make supper.” Sally smiled and said, “That’s all taken care of. Johnny wants to do it.” Again she whispered, “Remember the duck.” Johnny stayed while Sally went fishing.
After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally’s, finally he couldn’t stand it. He confessed to Grandma that he’d killed the duck. “I know, Johnny,” she said, giving him a hug. “I was standing at the window and saw the whole thing. Because I love you, I forgave you. But I wondered how long you would let Sally make a slave of you.”

God knows everything about you, he knows the good, the bad, warts and all, and the amazing thing is he loves you.  Don't hide from his presence and avoid his introspection.  Invite him in to know you - completely.