Sermon Commentary for Sunday, January 18, 2015
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 Commentary
Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider
The poet begins by professing, O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. In doing so she recognizes that God knows human beings perfectly. So the Lord doesn’t just know when people get up and when they sit down. God even knows our most secret thoughts. The Lord doesn’t just know when you and I leave and when we come home, when we get up in the morning and when we go to bed at night. God is also “familiar” with all our “ways.” God knows absolutely everything about you and me.
So God, the psalmist insists, doesn’t just hear the words we say. God also knows what we’re going to say before we even say it. The Lord knows what we’re thinking. God, quite simply, knows. People can generally hide from other people what they think of them. But no one can hide that from God. God knows exactly what people think of each of each other and the Lord. The Lord perceives even thoughts. God is the divine mind reader.
So people may be able to hide things like lust and envy from others. But they can’t hide them from God. God knows our ways. The Lord completely knows human thoughts. People may be able to choke back the words of anger or gossip that sneak up to but never actually cross their lips. People may never know what others are tempted to say. But God knows. Before words even move from minds to tongues, God knows them. Human beings may be able to hide feelings of pride or contempt for others from each other. They can’t, however, hide them from God. God knows peoples’ feelings completely.
A little mystery between people is sometimes a good thing. If people so intimately knew each other’s thoughts, they’d have a hard time loving, much less liking them. But there’s no mystery between God and people. God knows everything about them. But is that a good thing? Consider, after all, the implications of such complete knowledge. In the hands of people, it would be like a weapon of mass destruction. People might even use their knowledge of our hearts to condemn, blackmail or destroy us.
So it’s a good thing that people don’t know each other’s hearts thoughts. But what do we do with our realization that God knows all those things . . . and more? In the days before ultrasounds, people thought of the mother’s womb as the ultimate secret place. No one could peer inside it. God, however, insists the psalmist, peeks even into mothers’ wombs. God sees what probably no one prior to the twentieth century ever saw.
So there we have it. God knows. God is watching. God is listening. As Neal Plantinga said in a memorable sermon on this passage, “Around every corner, at the end of every hallway, up or down any flight of stairs, there is God.”
Plantinga points out that people generally respond to God’s inescapability by trying to attack God. If God keeps chasing, crowding, intruding on privacy, human beings sometimes lash out at the Lord. People try to get rid of God, reject God, deny God or remove God. They pass laws and pursue policies that deny God’s claim on them. People try to re-imagine God. Or simply try to kill God.
Isn’t that, after all, precisely what happened at the cross? In Christ God came so close that people could see and touch him. Christ watched peoples’ every move and even knew their every thought. As a result, at Calvary, in a real sense, human beings killed God. After all, Jesus Christ, says Plantinga, “brought God too close, much too close, and when God gets too close, people want to cross him out.”
What, however, if people respond to God’s closeness in a radically different way? What if people simply give in to God’s loving closeness? What if people surrender themselves to God’s intimate knowledge of people and their foibles? What if you and I faithfully receive this inescapable God?
This inescapable God, after all, graciously chose God’s children before God even created the world, even though God knew what we’d be like. This inescapable God redeemed God’s beloved from sin, Satan and death, while they were still sinners. This inescapable God moved in and pitched God’s tent among us in Jesus Christ even though God knew we’d kill him for it. This inescapable God sent the Holy Spirit to live in us even though God knew we wouldn’t always pay much attention to the Lord. This inescapable God is for God’s people even though God knows us better than people can.
This inescapable God knows every secret. But even the moral greasiness of secret hearts doesn’t repulse the Lord. With God, even the muddy character of so many secret actions doesn’t drive God away. Instead, the Lord hems us in – behind and before. The hands God has laid on God’s children are the hands that tenderly and lovingly hold the whole world. They’re the hands that were bruised and battered for human iniquities. They’re the hands that were scarred for the sins of all of God’s children.
So it might be terrifying to know that we’re known so completely. Or as the psalmist learned, it may be comforting to know beyond all comfort. It depends, as Plantinga says, on who’s doing the knowing.
Is there anything that human beings simply should never know? Might some knowledge be simply too dangerous or inappropriate for the treasure chest that is the human mind? In his book, Forbidden Knowledge, Roger Shattuck suggests that the knowledge of good and evil Adam and Eve gained by sinning in Eden harmed them. From this, and other material he has studied, he deduces that some knowledge is simply too dangerous or destructive for people to have.
This, however, runs quite contrary to the desperate thirst for knowledge that fuels some parts of our society. Human knowledge sometimes seems like an avalanche that is gathering momentum and growing as it tumbles down the slope that is history. So should humanity feel free to pursue the answer to every conceivable question and mystery?
Perhaps there are things human beings should never know. Exactly when and how we’ll die, for instance. The full glory of eternity. The fate of currently unbelieving loved ones. The details of others’ sins. Maybe even whether our unborn children are in some way impaired.
Yet there’s at least one more thing people defintely shouldn’t know: each other’s hearts. It would be too destructive for people to know what either good or evil lies there. Think, after all, how knowing each other’s hearts might affect our attitudes toward and treatment of them.
If, for instance, we knew the full goodness that lies in each other’s hearts, wouldn’t we be tempted to treat each other as gods? Or if we knew how much others admired, appreciated and respected us, might we be tempted to think of ourselves as gods? Might we not also be tempted to manipulate those who secretly viewed us so highly?
Or think about it this way. How could we be good and kind and loving and compassionate toward others if we knew the full extent of the evil that lies lodged deep in their hearts? How could people ever treat each other as God expects if they knew just how sinful others are? In fact, if others knew the extent of the evil in others’ hearts, perhaps none of us would ever be able to look each other in the eye.
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