As I read the Psalms I’m constantly struck by the power of the poetry. It evokes strong emotions, and indeed, when we consider the Imprecatory Psalms (those which invoke judgment, curses, and a call for action against one’s enemies or those who are seen to be the enemies of God), one can’t help but think that these words of Scripture were written both in the heat of and from the height of emotion. But such a human expression of emotion is part of who we are. It is part of how we are created.
The 139th Psalm is yet another within the Psalter which gives us insight into the truths about ourselves, including our emotions. Verses 21-22 (outside of the assigned readings for this week) express the capacity for hatred. And yet portions of the Lectionary reading, particularly verses 1-2 and 13-15, celebrate the wonder of humanity while giving perspective on the awesomeness of Divinity. “Lord, you have examined me. You know me. You created me. You knit me together.” Somehow both the capacity for hatred and deep emotion belongs to the mystery of personhood.
John Wesley once commented that “this psalm is, by many of the Jewish scholars, esteemed the most excellent in the whole book.” He said this, in part, because of the clear testimony given within its verses which demonstrate that God knows what our thoughts will be long before we do, that God discerns every step we take, that with God’s all-seeing providence He keeps us with His strong hands in His sight and under His power. And yet far from being a source of fear, worrying that we are so well known and our emotions and lives are often not in line with God’s will, Wesley saw this rather as a Psalm of great assurance. God knows us. And yet, as the Scriptures point out time and time again, God loves us nonetheless.
Saint Ambrose, writing around the year 383, said of this passage that God is clearly “our supporter, for He has supported us with His hands. He is called a supporter as the Creator of the human race. And He is our supporter, for He has supported us by His visitation, that He may protect us.”
It can be a source of great comfort to know that God knows us so well, and yet loves us so much. “Your eyes saw my embryo, and on your scroll every day was written what was being formed for me, before any one of them had yet happened (verse 16).” It can boggle the mind, “your plans are incomprehensible to me! (verse 17),” and yet there can be a peace that comes from trusting in the One whose “knowledge is too much for me; it’s so high above me that I can’t fathom it (verse 6).”
When we look to Jesus we see one who, because of His self-awareness, was able to love selflessly and serve graciously even in the face of animosity. He knew that He was God’s Son, beloved and well-pleasing. He was secure within Himself and therefore could not be demeaned by any task or distracted by any temptation. Knowing that God was with Him, that God loved Him, allowed Him to fulfill His mission for us.
When we have security it enables us to be more free in how we live and serve, too. If I have security in my job I can speak freely to my boss without fear of being fired. If I have security in my neighborhood I can leave my car unlocked without fear of it being stolen. If I have security in my relationship with God I can openly express my questions and my doubts without fear of losing His love or falling out of His grace.
When we know that God is with us, that God loves us, it allows us to live free lives in fulfillment of our mission. If I have security in my relationship with my Lord, an assurance of my salvation, then I don’t have to fear what others may say or what life may bring (see Psalm 118:6 and Hebrews 13:6).
God knows us, and loves us. And so we can say with confidence and comfort, “I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart. Your works are wonderful, I know that very well (verse 14).”