When facing adversity people often ask the question, “Where is God in all this?” It’s a natural question but one, I think, that is not usually asked to get an answer, but to express frustration and fear. The truth of the matter is that God is always near in all the circumstances of life. The Protestant reformers of the 16th century has a Latin phrase, Coram Deo, that means before the face of God. This phrase means that we live all our lives in the presence of God, whether we face good times or bad times. How we respond to those times is also before the face of God.
Psalm 139 is a Davidic psalm and is familiar to many believers. People use it for various reasons, but the essence of the psalm is to communicate the comfort and the consternation that the presence of God can evoke in the heart. The presence of God can be a beautiful and reassuring reality to a struggling believer, but it can also be a very fearful thing to one who has something to hide. Do we really want God looking deeply into our hearts? We do if we want to be open, honest and vulnerable so that we can experience real change. Lasting change, though, is painful, we may wish to avoid it.
Psalm 139 is composed of three strophes that reveal what the presence of God means. In these strophes we find both the comfort and the consternation. The final strophe gives us three responses we should make to the presence of God.
God Perfectly Knows Us (1-6)
Perfect knowledge is hard to wrap our minds around. It can be disconcerting to think that someone knows every detail, thought and motive of our lives. But that someone is God, and we know intuitively that God know all and sees all. We may rather just choose not to think about it much. But it pays to think about it though. God knows all and understands all. If we are believers in Jesus Christ, God is for us and not against us (Romans 8:31). The purpose of his infinite knowledge is to lead us to know him, love him and live for him. This is a place of blessing for us. It is wise , as David did, to meditate on God’s presence in his infinite knowledge of our lives. We can think about what that knowledge means in practical ways and how it can bring us closer to him.
God is Always With Us (7-12)
The fact that God is always with us first sends David to flight. He desires to flee from the presence of God. But he soon realizes that there is no place he can go that God is not already there. Places one can hide form people do not provide cover from God. But why does David want to run from God? We see others in the Bible, like Jonah, flee form God too. We just do not like the constant gaze of the Holy One upon us. It’s intimidating! We have to come to a place in our lives where we want to be open and transparent before God. That’s not an easy place to get to. We can fake it, but God sees through all that. We have to believe and trust that God is with us for our good, even when his hand upon us is painful. The other side of the valley of the shadow of death is the banquet hall of anointed heads and overflowing cups.
God is Powerfully Working in Us (13-16)
God’s presence with us begins even before we are born. It begins at conception. David meditates on God’s work in him in his mother’s womb. It is a wonderful thought that causes David to praise God. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (139:14). We can see movement, growth in David’s attitude towards God’s pervasive presence in his life. He moves from fearful fleeing to the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, from panic to praise. God’s work in David does not end in his mother’s womb. Every day of God’s work in David was written in God’s book before there was even one of them. This is hard to grapple with, yet it is the truth of God’s word. God is always at work in us for our good and his glory.
Three Responses to God’s Presence (17-24)
The first response to the presence of God is humble awe (17-18). God’s thoughts are precious to David. They are vast and uncountable. We are small; God is great. God is always with us for our good. The contemplation of God’s awesome greatness humbles us.
The second response to the presence of God is total commitment (19-22). These verse trouble most people. They seem so different from the teaching of Jesus. We must understand the context of David’s life. Many people were trying to kill him. Their aim was murder. They were enemies of God. David expresses his total commitment to God by opposing them. We express our total commitment to God by opposing the enemies of God which are the world, the flesh and the devil. We are involved in spiritual conflict every day. We must put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20). God’s presence in our lives requires a total commitment to him.
The third response to the presence of God is open scrutiny (23-24). We ask God to search our hearts. God is with us; are we with God? Do our lives reflect his holiness? If they do not we ask God to show us and lead us in the way everlasting. We ask him to change our hearts and so change our lives. This is the hardest part. We must walk with God moment by moment as he walks with us.