It can be hard, sometimes, to recognise the real from the counterfeit, even in ourselves. Jeremiah says that: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” [Jeremiah 17.9] We can go through the motions for a long time and never actually get to the reality of things. Very often, we really don’t want to know ourselves as we are, because we know we may not like what we find. Far better, we think, to cruise along and put on the holy smile and pretend to the world and ourselves that everything is fine.
Sadly, there is often the feeling that we should always put on the right show in front of others, especially other Christians, in case they see things in us that we’d rather they not see at all. This is bondage and a form of slavery. It prevents us from being who we should be before God, as well as before people. The tragedy of it all is that there is no need for that kind of deception.
Whether we like it or not, we don’t fool God for a second: we are known inside out by him, as it says so wonderfully in Psalm 139:
“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.” [verse 1-3]
Now, there are some that will find them rather scary, and they are the ones who need to reflect on why that is. If you don’t know how much you are loved by God, or if you simply don’t know him, this may make you uncomfortable. That God knows everything about you is fine in theory, but in reality? There’s even more: “Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” [verse 4-6]
Does that express your response: is that knowledge wonderful, in your opinion, or a little unnerving? If the latter, then the next verses will really freak you out: “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. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” [verse 7-12]
The Psalmist has obviously thought about fleeing, hiding, sometimes, but he understands that there is nowhere in all creation where he will be out of God’s presence. On the other hand, he finds tremendous comfort and security in that same fact: “even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast”. The response you have to all of this will depend on whether you know God loves you as you are, where you are, or not. He has known you before you even were:
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” [verse 13-16]
Because he knows his God, and how much he is loved, unconditionally, his response to all of this is pure joy: “How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand – when I awake, I am still with you.” [verse 17-18] In the face of all this, he looks around and sees the world opposed to God, embracing evil and he wants all of that destroyed and God’s enemies scattered. This sounds harsh, but in the face of God’s love and holiness, he finds it impossible to accept the opposite.
I think this Psalm is a litmus test for people. If you find it upsetting, uncomfortable, or unacceptable, a form of stalking, as I once heard someone describe it, then you need to get to know the reality of God and his ways. On the other hand, if you have known God and his love for you, then you will echo the last words of the psalmist. He started by saying that God has searched him and knew him. This is how he ends:
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” [verse 23-24]