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God Is So Big: A Look at Psalm 139

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God Is So Big: A Look at Psalm 139

When I was a little girl, I loved to sing and dance. There are videotapes of me from around 1989-1990 in which I sing and dance to my favorite songs. I am teased, lovingly, by my family for these videos. You know – the cute little version of yourself that you can’t live down? So there’s this one particular video that has been quoted to me ad nauseum in which I go on a spree of theological depth, especially for a 3-year-old. I say something like, “God is so big. He’s so big, that you can’t even see him when you’re reading the bible!” Except that I’m a southern 3-year-old, so it actually sounds something like, “Gawd is sooo bee-ug! Hay’s sooo bee-ug, that yooo caint even say eem when yer readin’ the bah-bull!” But yeah, you get the idea, I’m adorable and three and I totally understand this crazy concept of God’s bigness.

When you’re little, it’s so easy to understand that something is unfathomably big, because everything’s big to you! I even remember the picture I had of God at this age – I would read the bible so I could know God, but I couldn’t see him because his bigness made it impossible. I pictured my little self holding my bible, and my little self only measured up to the ankle of God’s long Dumbledore robes. (Dumbledore didn’t exist yet at the time, but you know Dumbledore is how we all pictured God – tall, skinny, long-bearded, white-haired dude in white robes.) And my little self could look up, and I could see just a tiny bit of God – that portion of the white robes that wasn’t too gargantuan to see, but God himself held the world. I mean it’s actually kind of deep when you think about it, really. I think there’s a reason why Jesus praised the faith of a child.

This idea of a gargantuan God knowing me – it’s amazing, and beautiful, and easy to forget as an adult. I’m a well-educated big girl now, and it’s easy to think of myself as smart, thoughtful, and big. I’ve grown, but I’ve also puffed up. And this is why I love Psalm 139. David takes time in this song to sing about some earthly, poetic comparisons to God’s bigness, the exposure of my sinful puffed-upness, and the wonderful truth that my actual smallness doesn’t stop God from knowing every little thing about me.

Verses 1-6: Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up; you understand my thoughts from far away. You observe my travels and my rest; you are aware of all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you know all about it, Lord. You have encircled me; you have placed your hand on me. This extraordinary knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to reach it.

God can see into the depths of my soul. He knows exactly what I’m doing and thinking. I love “you understand my thoughts from far away.” I think of the best friends I’ve ever had – you know, those friends who just understand me, and I never have to explain myself? And those friends who I can go a long time without talking to, and when we talk again, we just pick up right where we left off as if there hasn’t been any time at all? God just gets me. He knows what I mean when I talk. When I stray from his side and then repent and return, we pick up right where we left off. He knew me wherever I went. I also love “you are aware of all my ways.” I think about my husband in this one – he knows exactly how to load the dishwasher the way I like and that I prefer to run all laundry with cold water. He knows that I like the bed made so that I can slide into the covers every night and that the milk goes on the top shelf of the refrigerator and not the door. He knows that toilet paper goes over, not under (this one isn’t a preference, it’s just the difference between right and wrong, obviously). Ryan knows my ways. How much more does my God! He knows both my funny quirks and the depths of ugly I can reach. He knows. Before I talk, he knows what I’m going to say. He could finish my sentences. He can predict my instinctual responses to things. He knows. He encircles me – he hems me in, in NIV translation. I think of the Israelites being led by God with the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud. God is before me and behind me. He’s big enough to completely surround me, yet he can understand the smallest things about me. I can’t fathom this! Like David says, this extraordinary knowledge is above me, too lofty for me to reach. My wee brain just can’t get this. God is so big.

Verses 7-12: Where can I go to escape your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits, Even there your hand will lead me; your right hand will hold on to me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light around me will become night” Even the darkness is not dark to you. The night shines like the day; darkness and light are alike to you.

This idea of the enormity of God can be comforting, like it was from 3-year-old Mely. But also, it is totally overwhelming. When reading verse 7, I immediately think of Adam and Eve, right after the fall in Genesis 3:

Verses 8-10: Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” 

Upon the exposure of his sinful soul, Adam’s instinct is to hide from God. It’s too much to fathom, and it hurts to think about – we can suddenly see just how “naked” we are, and it’s scary and embarrassing! We think that the darkness can hide us, so we hide. But God is the very light. Darkness flees, shadows fall back, and we are left completely bare, the camera’s exposure setting whacked way up, light seeping into every festering corner. God is light, and light exposes all. He sees into the darkness as if it is as bright as noon. We can’t run away from Him. We can’t hide or escape. This is both awful and wonderful. I’m embarrassed of the darkness in me, of how dirty and gross and dark my sin is, and how very different I am from His light. So I try to hide, which is silly. My darkness isn’t a surprise to God. It’s just like day to Him.

Verses 13-16: For it was you who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise you, because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well. My bones were not hidden from you when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in your book and planned before a single one of them began.

I. Love. This. Part. For so many reasons. For one, I am a mother, so I’ve literally felt a child (two children, actually) as they’ve formed in my womb. It is total magic to feel those fluttery kicks and dream of who that little creature will be. And as those little creatures grew in me, I had no idea, and I still have no idea, who they’ll become. Total magic. But God knows. He’s so big, yet He is intricate enough to form babies from nothing – remarkable, individual, totally unique creatures whose basic existence brings Him glory. Total and complete magic, you guys.

I also love this verse for myself. It’s easy (and natural) to feel insignificant when I begin to come to terms with the great vastness of God. But it’s just the opposite! How can I ever be insignificant if the God of the universe took the time to create me from my very guts? The Hebrew word for “inward parts” is actually the word for kidneys here. In ancient Hebrew culture, the kidneys were believed to be a metaphor for a person’s most inner self – soul, conscience, feelings. Kidneys are not easily accessible organs, or at least they certainly weren’t to ancient Jews, so they are a representation of the parts of us that people cannot easily see, but are innate to our existence and still totally visible to God. God took the time to create me all the way down to my soul. I am totally individual, totally planned, totally thought of. Your works are wonderful, God! I know that full well! 

God is the great Artist. He planned me when I was formless, and He knew already exactly who I would be, like a great sculptor picturing a masterpiece out of a lump of marble. It’s just way cool, like Hagrid playing a mouse-sized game of Operation and somehow executing it perfectly. Magic!

Verses 17-18 God, how difficult your thoughts are for me to comprehend; how vast their sum is! If I counted them, they would outnumber the grains of sand; when I wake up, I am still with you. 

Not only is God vast, but so are His thoughts. This is where my puffed-upness comes to the forefront of my mind. I’m so smart, right? I understand stuff. I’m logical, and I have wisdom, right? This gets real for me, because one of my most sinful areas is my tendency to think I’m always right and I have all the answers. The truth, though, is that I just don’t get it. His thoughts are higher than mine. There is a whole level of truth and God-logic that I’ll never comprehend. I could sit there and count grains of sand. Or I think of Horton searching through 2,999,999 clovers to find the people of Whoville, and I realize that I’m just one tiny Who of thought among that enormous clover field of God-thoughts. How am I so small? And then how am I still important? And then, and then, how is He still with me, still seeking and searching me like Horton, never giving up on he Whos? Unfathomable.

Verses 19-22: God, if only you would kill the wicked – you bloodthirsty men, stay away from me – Who invoke you deceitfully. Your enemies swear by you, falsely. Lord, don’t I hate those who hate you, and detest those who rebel against you? I hate them with extreme hatred; I consider them my enemies.

This is probably the most confusing part of the psalm, as it is seemingly random. All this beautiful and encouraging talk about our worth is suddenly a stark contrast to this obviously hateful speech. But I think the hateful speech is here to make a grander point. David sees characteristics that he hates in his enemies: those who pray to God in deceit, for their own gain, those who swear by God but don’t really believe in Him, those who rebel against God. He acknowledges that these traits are evil, and he doesn’t want any part of them. After all this talk about God seeing him and his inability to escape God, God’s omniscience and omnipresence and omnipotence, David wants to plea with God to remove the parts of himself that mock God and reflect sin. This becomes clear at the conclusion of the chapter:

Verses 23-24: Search me, o God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.

David knows what God finds offensive: it’s our tendency to make ourselves as big as God. We idolize ourselves, pretending to pray to God when we think we know the answers ourselves and instead doing whatever we want, we speak as if we know God but don’t act in a way that reflects the humility that comes from understanding God’s greatness, and we go our own way instead of following God’s. David prays – after praising God and being in awe of His greatness – that he’ll never take God’s greatness for granted. He prays that God will adjust the parts of him that praise himself, so that he can focus his praise on the One who really deserves it.
God, you see me for exactly who I am, wonderfully made from guts to bones to skin to soul, planned and purposed by you for your glory. I’m so small, yet still so significant anyway. I’m worth something to you. Help me to see the things about myself that are sinful, and remove those things from me so that I can walk with you forever.