Musings from Psalm 139

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.
(Psalm 139:7-10 NIV)

I’m memorizing Scripture again; this time Psalm 139. It’s always been one of my favorites. It has a wonderful cadence or rhythm. It seems as though it were, at some point, set to music… maybe ancient music. Of course, that’s what the psalms are: songs and prayers. Some pleasant. Some, not so much; but all are poignant.

Although it was one of my favorites, I used to interpret it in a negative way. I used to think upon the verses above in a way that was not very positive, reassuring, or encouraging. Possibly that’s because I viewed God in a similar way. Let me explain.

When I read the verses above, I used to think that God was relentlessly eyeing me, evaluating everything I did. I believed He was up there, hammer in hand (or worse yet, a lightning bolt), ready to punish me for a bout of selfish anger or some stray word or thought. I believed He was a strict task-master, ready to rap my knuckles with His divine ruler. In fact, I can remember a time 30 years ago when I was caught out in the middle of a golf course in a lightning storm. I ditched my clubs under a bush and ran for the clubhouse. As thunder and lightning were crashing overhead, seemingly closer each time, I can still recall the scene: running for shelter, all the while thinking that God was about to punish me for the life I was leading at the time (which was not a pretty picture 30 years ago). Even then, I viewed God as the Divine Disciplinarian, and I was “going” from His Spirit. I was “fleeing” from His presence. He was chasing me, in hot, angry pursuit.

Today, as I read this psalm and memorize its verses, I am overwhelmed, instead, with the love of God.

As I read verse 5 which says:

“You hem me in, behind and before,
And you lay your hand upon me,”

I can actually feel God’s gentle, loving, nurturing hand on my shoulder. And when I read the verses mentioned above, I am not reminded of running for my life from an angry, vengeful god, but instead, am overwhelmed by His relentless, unending, unconditional love.

I know now that I can’t go anyplace where I’m not overshadowed by the umbrella of his great love. As Pastor Shane Lilly says, “God loves you and there’s nuthin’ you can do about it!” I can rest in the thought that God loves me regardless of what I say or do, and His Presence is always with me.

I can say, as the psalmist David did in verse 6:

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain!”

I need to be reminded…

Maybe its just a trait of the generation that preceded mine, but I grew up in a fairly strict household. As I think about it, maybe it wasn’t strict. But I was constantly on the lookout for my dad’s temper. Don’t get me wrong: he instilled really good traits in me: I was raised to work hard, think about others, and work hard. Oh wait. I said that. But if I strayed off course, I’d have to answer for it. And that was scary because dad had a bad temper. That was something else he “instilled” in me.

So when I screw up nowadays – either by accident, or on purpose by rebelling – my “default” setting is to be on guard, looking out for God’s anger and temper. I feel like I have to look out for a “hammer” coming from the hand of my heavenly Father.

I can remember a time, when I lived in Roanoke, before I knew God, when I got caught out on the golf course during a lightning storm. Somehow, I knew instinctively that I wasn’t living a pleasing life. I was in a panic, thinking that God was going to punish me and was going to literally send a lightning bolt.

But as I think about that, I realize that is Old Testament thinking. That is what Job’s friends thought when Job was enduring the onslaught of tragedies that came his way. That was the kind of thinking his disciples wrongly had when they asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” (See John 9:2) Yes, God disciplines those he loves, but he does so as a father does a son he DELIGHTS in (Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 12:7). He does it to shape us and mold us into the image of His Son.

I have to remind myself that he desires to be merciful (Hosea 6:6, Matt 9:13) to me and you. His “default” setting is love, grace and mercy. (James 2:13) A time is coming when He will judge, because He is a holy and just God. The tragic time is coming for that. But as we seek to walk in His ways, He isn’t looking for an opportunity to scold us and punish us when we mess up. He’s not looking to send a lightning bolt.

Lastly, He is not mad at you and me. We may screw up, but He knows how we were made. He delights that we are seeking to draw close to Him. He delights that we think about Him. He delights in the fact that we are trying to walk in His ways. He is not mad at us.

The Gospel is called the Good News. It is good news for everyone. It is good news for the wayward prodigal looking to come home. It is good news for the one (like me once) who is falling off his barstool. And it is STILL good news for you and me today.

He is not mad at you. He delights in you. That is Good News.