1 O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
2 You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
3 You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
4 You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
5 You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!
7 I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
8 If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
9 If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12 but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.
13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.
17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!
19 O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!
Get out of my life, you murderers!
20 They blaspheme you;
your enemies misuse your name.
21 O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you?
Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you?
22 Yes, I hate them with total hatred,
for your enemies are my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this Psalm lately. It’s a good one, and one with which many are familiar. It may ring a bell or sound familiar to many who aren’t “religious” just because its message has been so widely communicated, and it’s packed with theological significance from every angle. It’s one of those passages you could read over and over and find something new every time.
Lately, this passage has been teaching me about the sovereign omniscience of God. It’s crazy to think that God really knows everything. It’s a concept that is both simple and complex- an aspect of God’s character that can be grasped by those with the childlike faith Jesus promoted, yet endlessly discussed among the most seasoned theologians.
When we think of God as all knowing, we may focus on the idea that God has an overarching plan for the world, for salvation, for government, and all the big ticket items we all feel should be on His list of priorities. He certainly does know everything about those issues, and he certainly has a plan, but Psalm 139 is so much more personal than that. God knows me; He knows you; He knows us. Because He created us- not just mankind us, but us us- He knows us. He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs, fully aware of all our internal complexities. He knows us before we are born, before family and friends know us, before we even know ourselves. And His workmanship is always marvelous, no matter what.
Many of us spend our lives hiding from God, as if that’s possible. There are a lot of reasons people might give for this, but what it comes down to is shame. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had the ability to literally walk and talk with God, to see Him face to face and interact with him. After they disobeyed the one thing God had told them not to do, they hid from God in shame. Just three chapters into God’s eternal story, we see the thesis:
“The Lord called to Adam, ‘Where are you?'” (Genesis 3:9)
The rest of The Bible, and life beyond The Bible, is the continuation of this thesis- God seeking us as we try hide from Him. But here’s the thing: God is omniscient, and He knows where we are. He knew where Adam and Eve were. Adam eventually came out to tell God that he had hidden because he was ashamed- ashamed of his nakedness. He didn’t want God to see them the way God himself had created them, as if God didn’t know what they looked like without fig leaves covering them, as if God didn’t make them exactly as they were.
When we think about Psalm 139, we often appreciate God’s creation process and then skip right over what comes next- the innumerable precious thoughts He has for us, just the way we are! After explaining how God is with us no matter where we go or what we do, how He knows our thoughts, and how we can never escape His Spirit, the psalmist marvels at the endless love God has for us. We tend to think that, “if God only knew,” then those loving, kind, precious thoughts would turn to anger and judgement- or worse- disappear all together. And that’s why we hide.
For 26 years of my life I hid from God. On the outside, I’m sure it didn’t look like that. Immediately after beginning a relationship with God at a winter camp when I was 15 years old, I really committed. I went to church as often as I could and got as involved as I could. I joined a discipleship class called “The Call,” and I really did feel called. At summer camp the same year, I felt an even stronger call to ministry and knew God wanted me to be a pastor. At the same camp, I heard God say that I would adopt kids and demonstrate the love of God by being a father to the fatherless. When I shared that with my pastor, he agreed and said I would touch the lives of many young men who lacked an earthly father as I do. Somehow I knew that was true, but that wasn’t all that God meant by that. I put everything into that call, running to “win the race,” and striving to “live a life worthy of the calling” I had received, as the Apostle Paul instructed. I know a lot of people, and a lot of people know me. If you’ve hid a portion of your life like this for any amount of time-10, 20, 30, 80 years- it’s easy to feel like no one knows you very well, no matter how many people know you. It’s safe to say that not only my creation but my life experiences have made me pretty complex. And no, life experiences cannot turn someone gay, as many uneducated people believe; if a man is born with the desire to have sex with a vagina, there’s no life experience that could make him want it the other way. I’m sure straight men would understand that, and that’s why it can be nearly impossible for straight men to fathom homosexual orientation. We often fear that the more people know about us, the less they will love and accept us. It’s hurtful to learn that’s true with some people, and encouraging to learn it’s not true with everyone. However, it is always the opposite with God- He knows everything and still loves and accepts us unconditionally. That’s comforting once you understand it, but it’s hard to get there.
It’s hard to describe the oxymoron of hiding yourself from God while at the same time genuinely seeking Him with your whole heart. But just like Adam- just like all of us- I thought, “if God only knew,” as if He didn’t already know. I thought if God only knew I how I felt, or what I thought, He would be angry and disappointed. Like Adam trying to hide his nakedness, I felt I should hide in guilt and shame, because I didn’t want God to know that part of me. But God knew! He knew before I was born, He knew because he created me, and He has always known the marvelous complexities of who I am. He had already examined my heart and knew everything about me; He had always known my thoughts, and I had never been able to escape from His presence. And He still loved me, He still called me, He still had innumerable precious thoughts about me. God has pointed out a lot of things in me that offend Him, but who I am has never been one of them. The way He created me has never been an issue for Him; it has been an issue for me, and it has been an issue for other people, but never for God.
I know that’s a big statement for a lot people- the idea that some people are not created heterosexual- but that’s what I believe. I know there are many who disagree, but whenever people try to “reason” with me, I never hear any argument I haven’t already considered a million times when seeking truth on this topic. No one could ever beat me up over this issue nearly as much as I’ve beat myself up over it for my whole life.
Adam and Eve’s original sin proves our human nature. When given two commands- one to be fruitful and multiply, and the other to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil- they managed to disobey before they could obey. God’s response was, “Look, they have become like us, knowing both good and evil” (Genesis 3:22). When we choose our own will over God’s, we make ourselves our own god, robbing ourselves and others from participating in the close relationship for which God designed and created us. Accepting ourselves as the created enables us to further understand, accept, appreciate and love The Creator. We are all marvelous, complex works that bear the image of God; a variety of images does not indicate a variety of Gods but simply the complexity of one Creator God whose precious thoughts for all are innumerable. Because God always knows where we are, His question is rhetorical; the answer is just as much for us as the question itself.