Thursday, 12 March 2015

Lent, day 20: Psalm 139: the 'stalker' psalm


Day 20 of the blogdays of Lent - and the mid-way point of this 40 day discipline.
Life slightly overtook the blogging, so days 18 and 19 have had to bite the wilderness dust.  Ah well, back to it...

I've been thinking about the Psalms these last couple of weeks.
Quite a lot.
In particular, I've been rather mindful of the raw honesty and the range of human emotions on full display within them.
There are beautiful comforting psalms;
instructive psalms;
psalms of praise and joy and adoration;
psalms of lament;
and psalms of sheer, unadulterated rage.
Sometimes there's a psalm that might even contain all of the above.

Today I've been mulling on Psalm 139.
I remember a very long time ago learning three big words about God,
or more precisely, about the nature of God.
Three big words [aka the 'big 3'], all beginning with 'O':
omnipotent
omniscient
omni-present.
Occasionally, in those early days of being a Christian, discussions
would be had in youth group or bible study, and given half the chance,
the 'big 3' words would manage to shoe-horn themselves into the
conversation - basically, because I was fair chuffed with myself for
being a wee bit clever, but mostly it was because not having had much of a
church upbringing, I was just pleased to have a handle on some of the
language of the faith.  A little knowledge is a helpful - or dangerous - thing.

While all three of the 'big 3' are contained within this psalm, the emphasis is
very much on both knowledge and presence.
God's thoughts are vast, and, God knows all of our thoughts.
There is nothing that is not known to God.
God is.
God is present.
God is present at all times and in all places.
Wherever we are, God is there also.
There is nowhere that God is not.
I'm minded of the old 60's song 'Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide'.
Given the 'where can I go from your presence' context, I often refer to this
as the 'stalker' psalm.
Hemmed in behind and before, there's a sense that this ever-present God
pretty much has our number, has got us pegged, and won't let us get away
with a thing.
Even our thoughts are known before we think them.
So, how to live with that?

The psalmist, I think, tries to deal with it by, initially, trying to say
what s/he thinks God is wanting to hear, and in doing so, adds a hugely
jarring note to the psalm in vv19-21:
'kill the wicked',
'your enemies are my enemies',
'I hate them too.'
A deflection, perhaps: pointing to 'them over there...'?
Very human.

How though, do we deal with the God who knows us completely
and who is with us every second of every day, no matter where we are?
Perhaps the comfort comes in that very fact:
there is something incredibly liberating about being so completely known,
and yet, being so completely beloved.
The great, vast, transcendent God sees us for who we are,
and loves us, and will not let us go.
Filching and twisting a quote:
perhaps it's when we approach God with an attitude of
'here I stand, I can do no other'
that we begin the process of leaning into, and living in, God's love.

In the meantime, a song...

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