7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:7-10 NIV
Dear Church Family,
The other day, my wife suggested to my son that he read Psalm 139. It immediately, he said, became one of his favorites. This is actually a Psalm I used to spend some time discussing in my classes, so I thought I’d share some insights about it with you this week.
One of those fancy terms we use in Christian theology is “omnipresence,” which refers to the idea that God is always (omni) present. There are a few interesting questions that arise, however, when you are talking about the “presence” of God. It is certainly something I affirm, but there are some ways of thinking about God’s ever-abiding presence that are better than others.
One of the not-so-helpful ways shows up in an ancient view known as pantheism. According to this view, “god” or “divinity” (in Greek, theos) is spread throughout reality in such a way that everything (in Greek, pan) is god, hence pan-theism. The universe, to put it simply, is the physical aspect or the “body” of God.
I don’t think that’s what Psalm 139 has in mind. I believe the biblical account of creation makes a firm distinction between that which is God and that which is creaturely. God’s presence in this psalm is not some super-fine substance that is spread throughout the material world like butter spread on toast. Rather, God is the God who can personally meet us wherever we are.
Do you find that comforting? I think most Christians would say, “yes,” and I think Psalm 139 should be a source of comfort and encouragement. But there’s an interesting aspect of this psalm that is frequently missed. It shows up in v. 7 where the psalmist asks, “where can I flee from your presence.” Again, just after the verses cited above, the psalmist considers whether or not one can hide from God in the dark (the answer is “no”).
Have you ever wanted to hide from God? My point here is simply that God’s presence in the Bible, although a source of comfort for his people, is also something that is to be take very seriously, even “feared” in some sense. Psalm 139 isn’t about some abstract presence of God permeating the universe. It is about the fact that God knows us intimately, including the things we might want to hide from God. It’s fine to be comforted by the knowledge that God is always there, but we must also remember that the God who is always there has commanded that we live our lives in a way that brings glory to him. What will you do today that will bring glory to God? He is watching.