In various ways, Psalm 139 keeps cropping up in my life and consciousness, and so I’m going to do a series of posts on it, since it’s too long and the questions about it are too complex to handle in just one. Many issues gravitate toward this psalm: theodicy (is God just?), Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia, addiction, abortion, free will, human aloneness, and the one called deus absconditis (the hidden, absent, or self-hidden God).
The first step is to read the psalm. Because use of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) without written permission is limited to brief quotations with the citation NRSV (as I’m reasonably sure use of other versions of the Bible is limited as well), I’m giving a link where you can find it on a site called Oremus. Just select New Revised Standard Version from the drop-down list (2nd one down, the first is its anglicized version) and then enter the passage of the Bible you wish to read, in this case Psalm 139.
This psalm has often been considered a hymn to God’s omniscience, God’s all-knowing. I don’t think so, or at least I don’t think God’s having all the information is the main wonder that causes the psalmist to speak in awe. After all, if God is God, are we surprised that God knows more than we do? I would have to say, “Let’s hope God does.” I believe the true wonder is not that God knows everything but that God cares so much and won’t stop caring.
Again I remind myself that the language of the Bible is relational. To know is to understand and care. To know a person is to feel empathy with that person. Knowledge with indifference toward the thing or especially the person known is a contradiction that makes no biblical sense. Apathy may be a divine attribute in some philosophical notions of deity, but it definitely is not a biblical attribute of God. The entire Bible reveals the truth that God is not indifferent toward humanity or the whole creation. The God of whom the Bible speaks to us is never apathetic.
So, if you’ve already read the psalm, you might want to read it again as an expression of wonder, not at God’s infinite possession of facts and data, but at the persistence of God’s caring and compassion, no matter how far away we run, where we hide, or what life buries us under.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. (Psalm 139:3 NRSV)
“Search out.” The translations vary somewhat, but all suggest that God actively endeavors to acquire this personal knowledge of the human and is not passively in possession of all the information there is. There is willing effort involved. There is desire to know. The psalm is confronting us with the God who cares far more about us and for us than we can fathom.
More to come.