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 the 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.
When we think of men who ask why the wicked prosper, Jonah comes to mind, as he does in this portion of Psalm 139 that talks about trying to flee from God’s presence. We would do well to remember both texts, when we talk about God’s presence, as if he is limited to where he can dwell. In Jeremiah 23:23-24, the Lord declares, “Am I a God who is near / And not a God far off? Can a man hide himself in hiding places / So I do not see him? Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” We expect the Lord to be in heaven, but Psalm 139:8 tells us that even in Sheol (variously translated as “the depths,” “the grave,” “the underworld,” or even “hell”), even there, the Lord sees all. Job 26:6 and Proverbs 15:11 tell us that “Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord, How much more the hearts of men!” Indeed, some men’s hearts do resemble the grave.
But the Psalmist says the Lord’s hands, even in the depths, will “lead” and “lay hold” of his servant. This adds to the previous image of a Father’s grip; now the hand is leading us through danger. One cannot help at this point but think of the Good Shepherd, with the rod and staff, guiding his sheep through the darkest valley. Why is darkness not dark to the Lord? Simply, as 1 John 1:5 confirms, because “God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” Wherever God goes, there is light, because He is Light. And His light is marvelous and wonderful, just like his knowledge. But if you’re going to truly believe that there is no darkness in God, then that must be true even when it seems like the darkness overwhelms. Even on Good Friday, when “darkness fell over the whole land” (Luke 23:44), The Light of the World still shone in the darkness, even while hanging from the cross, and “the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5).
Last September, I contemplated these verses as I sat next to William’s hospital bed, where he was recovering from a tonsillectomy. The TV showed grainy videos of wind and rain lashing Rockport and Corpus Christi, as Hurricane Harvey crashed into the Gulf Coast. The rain was just starting in Houston; as we would find out later, it would stick around for a long, long time. I pondered how frightening it must have been to know that a terrible storm was headed your way, cloaked in darkness, blotting out not only the arrival of the storm, but also any assurance of the sun ever shining again.
As I laid upon a couch not too different from the one which I slept on for the first few days after William was born, the machines and monitors making similarly disturbing noises to the ones in the NICU that kept him alive for the first three weeks of his life, I wondered if another storm was headed our way, ready to overwhelm me, and if so, whether the Light would still lead the way. The waves crashed on the screen, Will’s heart monitor beeped sharply, and in between I heard the soft murmur of our Lord, saying, “Even here My hand will lead you, / And My right hand will lay hold of you.”