Who does God say you are? 1: Psalm 139
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .
The total length of the recording is .
Play in browser
MP3 (12.6 MB) (96kb/s constant rate)
Psalm 139, from The Voice, says this,
O Eternal One, You have explored my heart and know exactly who I am;
You even know the small details like when I take a seat and when I stand up again.
Even when I am far away, You know what I’m thinking.
You observe my wanderings and my sleeping, my waking and my dreaming,
and You know everything I do in more detail than even I know.
You know what I’m going to say long before I say it.
It is true, Eternal One, that You know everything and everyone.
You have surrounded me on every side, behind me and before me,
and You have placed Your hand gently on my shoulder.
It is the most amazing feeling to know how deeply You know me inside and out;
the realization of it is so great that I cannot comprehend it.
Can I go anywhere from Your Spirit?
Is there anywhere I can go to escape Your watchful presence?
If I go up into heaven, You are there.
If I make my bed in the realm of the dead, You are there.
If I ride on the wings of morning,
if I make my home in the most isolated part of the ocean,
Even there, You will be there to guide me;
Your right hand will embrace me, for You are always there.
Even if I am afraid and think to myself, “There is no doubt that the darkness will swallow me,
the light around me will soon be turned to night,”
You can see in the dark, for it is not dark to Your eyes.
For You the night is just as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are the same in Your eyes.
For You shaped me, inside and out.
You knitted me together in my mother’s womb long before I took my first breath.
I will offer you my grateful heart, for I am your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe.
You have approached even the smallest details with excellence;
Your works are wonderful.
I carry this knowledge deep within my soul.
You see all things; nothing about me was hidden from You
As I took shape in secrets,
carefully crafted in the heart of the earth before I was born from its womb.
You see all the things;
You saw me growing, changing in my mother’s womb;
Every detail of my life was already written in Your book;
You established the length of my life before I even tasted the sweetness of it.
Your thoughts and plans are treasured to me, O God! I cherish each and every one of them!
How grand in scope! How many in number!
If I could count each one of them, they would be more than all the grains of sand on earth. Their number is inconceivable!
Even when I wake up, I am still near you.
I wish You would destroy all the wicked, O God.
So keep away from me, those who are thirsty for blood!
For they say such horrible things about You,
and those who are against You abuse Your good name.
Is it not true that I hate all who hate You, Eternal One?
Is it not true that I despise all who come against You?
Deep hatred boils within me toward them;
I am Your friend, and they are my enemies.
Explore me, O God, and know the real me. Dig deeply and discover who I am.
Put me to the test and watch how I handle the strain.
Examine me to see if there is an evil bone in me,
and guide me down Your path forever.
David wrote Psalm 139 not because it was about how wonderfully made he was, though that was part of it. Now, that’s the most famous parts of this Psalm. It was so much more that he trusted the God that knew him every single detail. He knew that God loved him and was content with such detailed knowledge about his life and his actions.
Half a dozen times, the psalm writer talks about know or knowledge in this psalm alone. That’s the important bit: that God knew David. The NIV version begins this beautiful psalm with a number of similar words: you have searched me and you know me, you perceive, you discern. These aren’t just words about God knowing us or knowing him generally. It’s deep stuff. One translation of the Hebrew words, know or knowledge, to distinguish or to recognize, to consider, is ידע (yada‘). It’s deep, deep stuff. Perceive in this context was to truly understand. God, you know me well enough to understand me, to scrutinize, to winnow the stuff all about me. This deep knowledge of God’s care towards the psalmist isn’t fly by nights, is here to stay and the psalmist seems to be really glad about that.
And so, when I reflected upon the young people exploding in their anger and their frustration, “Well, that’s just the way I am.” A bit of my heart ached because it wasn’t who they were created to be. It isn’t wholly who they are. In that moment, it was the frustration about a particular challenge that someone had made towards them, that they were rejecting and they responded unkindly. Partly because they did not deeply know themselves anywhere as deeply as the God who created them knew them. I think that’s the point here. By the time we reach the famous middle part of Psalm 139, the bit that says, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made,” the bit that talks about each and every human being created so intimately, secretly, and beautifully.
The reader is painfully aware that this Psalm is about a God who knows. David, the Psalm writer, is not ashamed of the deep knowledge that God has of him. In fact, it seems that David delights in the depth of how God knows him so intimately, to the point of inviting God to search him, even though God’s already done in verse one, to see if there is any offensive bits of him left, because he wants to know God as deeply as God knows him. I wonder whether I am as transparent with my relationship with God, as David was. I wonder if I would be as happy for God to search me, as David invites God to search him.
In this Psalm, we see how deep is the relationship between the creator and the created. The I—you relationship is really important. They are very personal ways of describing the God—human relationship. If parliament was sitting, it would be like in the House of Commons where MPs addressed the speaker to in the third person. The Right honourable so it would be something like if I were an MP, “The Right Honourable Member for Weaver Vale points out, da-da, da-da, Mr Speaker.” It’s in the third person.
No wonder Psalm 139, is such a favourite. It is full of joy, and knowledge and comfort and wonder. How sad sometimes is that some Christians and some churches often spend more time reminding people what sinners they are and that their antidote for sadness and sin is Jesus’ forgiveness on the cross. I don’t believe this to be wrong. Though I do wonder whether Christians sometimes have the wrong perspective that we sometimes perhaps have to crawl on our bellies in otter humiliation and deeply aware of our sin before Jesus will welcome us, because that’s not the way I see Jesus in the gospels. Where Jesus meets people where they are and attends to them wholly. I wonder whether Christians often see themselves as not good enough despite the truth that Jesus makes me good enough, which has perhaps a knock-on effect to our personal self-esteem. As humans, we know that we mess up in all sorts of ways. We’re feeble, we’re selfish, we put our own desires before those of others. As my illustration with the young people makes clear, “that’s just the way I am.”
What if it was never meant to be that way? For centuries, theologians and philosophers have often talked about something called original sin. Adam and Eve sinned, and so the whole of humanity and the whole of creation is saddled with the consequence of that act of selfish ambition in the garden of Eden. Now, the human condition is what it is, in sin. It’s another way of saying, “That’s just the way I am, and neither you or I can do anything about it.”
Let’s blame the first human beings for messing up everything, messing up what could’ve been and what was until then, a perfect existence. What if we stepped back another step to the creation story itself and remind ourselves of the original context for humanity? Looking at the perfection that God originally created in us in Genesis 1:27 31. If I can find it. It’s right at the beginning of my Bible.
Genesis 1. There’s so much of an introduction into this Bible.
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’
Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground — everything that has breath of life in it — I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
God blessed mankind in his own image. God blessed them. God saw all that he had made and it was very good. With that said, I wonder whether human beings were created originally for goodness, not sin. At the beginning, we were designed fearfully and wonderfully, very good. The Hebrew for very good can be translated as mightily, exceedingly, diligently, beautiful and precious and excellent, and agreeable, and bounteous. There seems to be little place for original sin at this point in creation as it seems like it’s all about original goodness.
I’ve been a Christian for as long as I can remember. I’ve been in church as long as I can remember. In so many services, I have wondered why it’s the minister that might remind the congregation that we are sinners. They might say, “You may have come here today feeling weighed down by the sin in your life. You may be feeling that you’re good enough to receive communion. There might be things getting in the way between you and God.” It all sounds rather depressing. Because I don’t need to come to church to be reminded of that, I can quite happily beat myself over my sin without being told by somebody at church, thank you very much. That was my honest opinion many times sat in church.
Then that glimmer of hope when the minister will say, “But remember that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. You can find forgiveness at the foot of the cross.” If I was feeling low and down when I came into church and wanted to find Jesus, do I really have to feel even lower before I’m reminded that Jesus has come to forgive my sin?
What if the church first and foremost told me that I was loved with an everlasting love, and that the life and example of Jesus Christ helped me to be the best version of who I could be? Why is it so often the church has spent time pitying individuals only then to bolster them up by reminding them that they can be free from their sin by turning to Jesus? Enough of us struggle with our own self-esteem, about how we look or how others might judge us, or how we feel that we don’t match up to our own standard, let alone, God’s.
When I come to Jesus, I would so much rather want to see his life and his example, and try to emulate that even if I fail. Because I know that through the death and the resurrection of Jesus, I have been forgiven for all my silliness and my sin. I wonder why so many churches focus on only the death of Jesus rather than in his death and resurrection. His resurrection being the real miracle. If Christians focused only on the death of Jesus, then it’s no wonder that there’s an element of feeling down and depressed, but we are reminded in scripture that there is hope because of the resurrection of Jesus. As people who follow and serve Jesus who is alive for evermore, let’s focus on that.
Why am I saying all of this? Because I have to learn and relearn that God knows me deeply, not so that he can merely point out the sin in my life and rectify it, but so that as the psalm’s praise of Psalm 139 points out, I can praise God that he knows me so desperately well so that I don’t have to tremble with a fear to a God who, let’s face it, could just wipe me out with a flick. His default position is love. God wants what is best for me. That includes my feelings and my thoughts and how he created me.
What if I saw my relationship with God as David did in the psalm? What if I were able to snap my fingers and actually believe that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, what would that look like? How different would that make me feel? As a Jesus follower, I’m not exempt from the troubles of a fallen and sinful world. Because I follow Jesus, I know that I’m still not perfect. Here’s the secret. God knows that, and yet he accepts that.
The death and resurrection of Jesus somehow enables me to still be imperfect and yet still deeply loved. My sin doesn’t excuse the fact that I’m still fearfully and wonderfully made by a God that continues to love me, warts and all. The life of Jesus shows me that in every person He talked to, he healed and he taught. His compassion for each soul He met and souls he captivates even today, He confirms their absolute humanity. If Jesus sees the best in me, that I am fearfully and wonderfully made in his very image, then I guess that means that I fully reflect the goodness of God in my humanity. God has been good enough to create you and me in His likeness. We see the true likeness of God in Jesus Christ, God’s one and only Son, who died and rose from the dead for the salvation of all of creation. As we draw this message to a close, let’s come again to the words of those young people that I used to work with. “That’s just the way I am. There’s nothing you or I can do about it.” Because they might be right.
The only thing that will change that attitude is the work of the power of God. Thankfully, that work and power is freely available to us. There is often a void between how I see myself, and how I am told that God sees me. I disappoint myself and think that God is disappointed in me again. I forget that God has dealt with my baggage through the death and resurrection of Jesus. I no longer have to see myself the way I see myself.
I can choose to celebrate, to see myself the way that God sees me in exactly the same way that he sees his son, perfect, without blemish, able to stand before him without fear, and in perfect communion, in whose image I am created. Today, we begin a series. The thing we’ll be looking at between now and Advent is all about how God sees me. How God sees us. We all need a reminder about how we live best in community.
How people who love the way of Jesus, share in it with one another, and thus to the world. Following Jesus was always about following his life and his example, and knowing that if ever we slip up, he is there to forgive us. We are human and yet we are made in the spitting image of the God who loves us. As we sang earlier, I am wonderfully made and I thank you, God. Let us continue to remind one another and ourselves that this is a truth. God knows us so well, even better than we know ourselves, and that’s okay. Don’t fear. God loves you and wants you to be the best version of you. Free of fear of sin and shame, and so let’s live in that truth as we journey together in the days that follow.
This talk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Scripture quotations marked NIVUK on this page and in the talk are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked The Voice on this page and in the talk are taken from The Voice™. Copyright © 2008 by Ecclesia Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved.