Scripture: Psalm 139
Reflection: Psalm 139 tells us that there is no hiding when it comes to God. No matter where we go, or what we do, God meets us where we can be found. Even when we are covered in the darkness of shame or grief or whatever we think has finally separated us from the love of God, when we are in the deepest pit, we are still in the light of God. Still known. Still held by God. God meets us even there, dispelling our darkness with divine light. And even when we come to the end of all of the days God has formed for us and we spin off this mortal coil, even then, even there, we are still with God, for God cannot forget us, nor will God forsake us. In the United Kingdom there is a cemetery in the Channel Islands dedicated to the unknown dead of World War II, those anonymous men who lost their lives in battle and could not be rightly identified. And each headstone in that cemetery is inscribed, simply, with “Known By God.” This is the way it is with each of us, the inscription carved into every beating heart.
The psalmist also tells us that there are no secrets with God, for we are completely known by the One who, like a patient artist, knit us together stitch by stitch. Seven times the psalm uses some form of the words “to know”, and on top of that, words like “search” and “acquainted” and “see” describe God’s familiarity with us. God knows the thoughts that arise within us, we are told. God knows the words we will speak before we’ve even formed them on our lips. God is acquainted with our habits, our comings and goings, and the plans we make. We are known completely.
And knowledge is power. Which is why it matters, then, what kind of God is doing all that knowing – whether we should read this psalm and hear it as a threat or as a promise. It matters whether our God is the God that the church has sometimes proclaimed – which is a God who peers down at us from afar, like a celestial judge, keeping a record of rights and wrongs, rolling his eyes when we’ve made a mess of things, even shaking his head in pity or exasperation, ready and willing to use his knowledge of us against us. A parent-God who might say, “I’m not angry with you. I’m just disappointed in you,” which is almost worse. As a child, I was always uncomfortable with that line about Santa in the Christmas Carol that claims “he sees you when you’re sleeping/he knows when you’re awake/he knows if you’ve been bad or good/so be good for goodness sake.” Is that our picture of God?
Or, could it be that this psalm provides another picture? Is it possible that our God is a God who knows us with love, who sees us through the eyes of compassion, the way a mother looks at her child, or a lover at his beloved? Could it be that our God witnesses to our lives in a way that is patient and kind, in a way that keeps no record of wrongs but rejoices when the truth is made manifest in us? Could God be a witness that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things? And could it be that our greatest hope is to one day know ourselves the way God knows us, which is with an unflinching, unending love – for now we can talk about things, we can sing hymns about them and let the music carry us a little closer to grasping them, we can know them in part, but then will we know fully, even as we have been fully known? “You hem me in, behind and before, and you have laid your hand upon me,” sings the psalmist. You have not given up on me. You have accepted me, and yet you are still at work refining me. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. It is so high that I cannot attain it.”
Prayer: Gracious God, you know me better than I know myself. And even though you know all there is to know about me, you still love me. Help me to rest in that love, today and always. Amen.
Author: Anna Dickson
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].