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The Way Everlasting: A Study of Psalm 139 (Part One)

NOTE: This is part one of a five part series of meditations on Psalm 139. It was originally published on my personal Facebook page last autumn. It has been lightly revised.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.

August 17, 2006. I was giving a final exam at Midland College when the phone call came from Danielle. “Clark, Carrie’s having the baby! They’re loading her in an ambulance. You can follow us to Odessa Regional.” I dropped my stuff, said sayonara to my students, left a voicemail for my Dean, and took off for the hospital. It’s one of the few times in my life I’ve driven over 100 mph. U2’s Joshua Tree was in the CD player, and I sang “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” at the top of my lungs: “I have climbed the highest mountains, / I have run through the fields, / Only to be with you.”

Psalm 139 tells us that despite our constant search for truth, meaning, love, and purpose, the Lord isn’t searching for us. He already knows where we are. “You have searched and known,” verse 1 tells us. The King James Version gives a lovely translation of verse 2: “Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising.” He winnows our path when we cannot see above the weeds. He also, we are told, encloses us behind and before; the NIV says he “hems” us. This phrase used to bother me; I don’t like being hemmed in by anyone, and I certainly don’t like the feel of a hand being “laid upon” me. One cannot help but think of a father standing at a busy intersection, gripping a child’s shoulders to keep him from jumping out into traffic. I admit, the hand of God sometimes feels like that, or worse, under conviction or discipline, like a hand squashing me down. Yet lately, I’ve found the idea of being enclosed or hemmed to be a great source of comfort. In fact, it is a wonderful notion.

“Wonderful” is one of those words that we’ve almost lost completely due to misuse. More than merely an expression of delight or ecstasy, “wonder” in the scriptures usually refers to awe, and even a questioning of God about mysteries and dark secrets: Psalm 44 and Jeremiah 12, for example, speak about the Lord knowing all and seeing all; but then they ask, if that is the case, “why has the way of the wicked prospered?” God’s way is “wonderful,” we are told in reply: marvelous, astonishing, high above us. Also, when the scriptures talk about God’s intimate knowledge (i.e., Matthew 9:4), it’s usually about God discovering the dark, evil thoughts of human hearts. The exceptions? Romans 11 and Job 42, both of which I have written about in my book about Will.

In fact, it is a wonder to me that so many of my favorite Bible stories and songs seem to have grown out of Psalm 139 and its meditation on God’s mysterious omniscience and omnipotence. My favorite band growing up, Delirious, wrote three songs (“Investigate,” “Mountains High,” and “Our God Reigns” that directly reference this Psalm). My favorite Third Day song was “You’re Everywhere.” And then “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” a gospel song about one who has “climbed the highest mountain” and run “through the fields” to find the one who “carried the cross of my shame.” Little did I know how that evening on State Highway 191 that I was commencing upon such a pilgrimage. I sped past the ambulance, and thought I was leading the way. (As it turned out, I got lost and ended up at the wrong hospital.) Little did I know, I was the one who needed to be led. I was headed somewhere high, too high, too wonderful for me.

Part Two will be posted next week…

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