Okay, so I've already said I like Psalm 2 and Psalm 91. Today I'm going to add a third psalm to my list of favorites, Psalm 139, especially v. 7-12. They are incredibly uplifting verses when I feel far from God or overcome by a sense of my own guilt.
While in Malawi, these verses came to me during one period of really looking for God one day. I was in a culture I didn't understand with people who didn't speak very clear English. These verses meant a lot that day. I had heard them before, but I had never taken the time to think about them or really look at them in depth.
"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, 'Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and light around me will be night,' even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You."
The psalmist begins with a question: where can we go to flee from God's presence? I've talked about it before on this blog; there are days God seems very far away. However, is He? That's what David is discussing here. Is it possible to get away from God's presence?
David offers several scenarios to make his point. The first two are complete opposites. David's first scenario is one we would have no trouble thinking is true. "If I ascend to heaven, You are there". Alright, we get that. Of course God's heaven. That's a no brainer!
But the next statement is amazing. "if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there." Literally, if I lay down in hell, God is there. What an amazing statement of God's omnipresence! Heaven and hell are metaphorically used frequently to describe good and evil, two opposing sides of a conflict. However, here we see God, not only in the beauty of golden streets, endless light, and glorious perfection; but also in the opposite, burning fire, eternal darkness, and mass evil.
It's very easy to look at the world today and say, "Where is God?" Where is God in Somalia? Where is God in Sudan? Where is God in the Iranian church? Where is God in the global catastrophes, the wars, the disasters?
He's right where He has been since the beginning of time. Above, around, and in the middle of it, working all things out for His own purposes and to His own plan. He's right where he was when the disciples gathered in a small upper room and probably asked that same question, "Where is God now that Jesus is in a grave?" He's right where He was when James was martyred and Peter imprisoned, and the small Jerusalem church gathered to pray, I imagine something like this, "God, where are you?" He's right where He was through all that; in perfect control.
If God is in hell, He is certainly in Somalia or Sudan! It's almost hard to imagine that God, ultimate light, perfect justice is in hell. But it tells us something. There is absolutely no possible way to get away from the presence of God. There really is no more distant option than hell. You can't out-sin His presence.
"If I take the wings of the dawn, and dwell in the remotest parts of the sea..." David's pretty much covered all the bases here. Heaven, hell, space, and the ocean floor! Those are probably the four greatest unknown areas of man's knowledge, yet none of these places can begin to shield you from the presence of God.
"Even there your hand will lead me, and your right hand will lay hold on me." Even in these unknown, mysterious places, where we have no idea what to expect, God is there. His guidance is there, whether it be in a familiar hometown or in outer space. And even there, God is still in control.
It's a beautiful thought really. It's very easy to forget the existence of God, being invisible. It's easy to think that I have to face life on my own. I have to survive by my toughness. On the contrary, God is there. He is my strength. He is my familiarity, even in a strange or unknown place.
The last scenario David puts out there is interesting. "Even the darkness is not dark to you, and the night is as bright as the day." Anyone who has tried to navigate in the woods in the dark knows how difficult it can be. There's a reason most of us as kids were scared of the dark. There's also a reason I'm still more nervous in the woods after dark. Why? Because I can't see! During the day, it's easy to feel on top of the world. During the night, when you hear branches cracking a few hundred yards from your camp, it's a lot harder to feel in control of the situation!
We as humans are limited by day and night. Without artificial light, it really is nearly impossible to travel long distances. But God is not limited by such finite things. The psalmist says that night is as bright as day to God. Darkness, something that has always been faced with at least nervousness by man, is completely swallowed in light by God. Darkness holds no fear; in fact, there is no difference between the day or the night to God.
What this psalm does is help to paint an absolute masterpiece of God's omnipresence, something that should comfort us as we go through our lives. No matter what hard place we're in, God is there. No matter what hard times we're going through, God is there.