“Where shall I go to escape your spirit? Where shall I free from your presence?” — Psalm 139:7, NJB
I don’t know about you, but verses like this one were often used as subtle threats. It was almost like pastors and youth leaders imagined God as Roz from Monsters, Inc, aaaalways watching…
Needless to say, the idea of God always being there watching us and judging us is uncomfortable, and it often becomes a cause for resentment. We don’t like authority as humans, and especially not where I live in the United States (Texas, of all places). We don’t like the idea of being bare before God, whether because of shame, fear, or a general distaste for judgment.
Honestly, I can relate. I resent the idea that I could be judged or condemned based on how I manage in this life. It makes sense, but what if the ever-abiding presence of God with us is more than a means of keeping tabs on us? What if it is a cause for joy, just as much as concern?
We all too often are taught to think of God in two extremes: the squishy, love-all deity that forgives us OR what is perceived to be the opposite, full of hard judgments, rendering what we deserve. We are tragically bad at balancing the notion of justice and grace, and it is my hope that this Psalm we are discussing will help.
You see, it is true that God’s presence with us includes judgment. God is just and holy. and when we aren’t, that’s going to get some attention. However, it is important that we don’t separate the judgment of God from His grace.
God is not one who corrects or judges just for the sake of doing those things. God’s hope is to help us grow if we will let Him. Free will does mean we can choose to ignore the rebuke of God until everything goes to Hell in a handbasket, but it also means we can open our hearts to the grace God offers by showing us a better way.
Psalm 139 reads:
“If I scale the heavens you are there, if I lie flat in Sheol, there you are. If I speed away on the wings of the dawn, if I dwell beyond the ocean, even there your hand will be guiding me, your right hand holding me fast.” (verses 8-10)
God’s presence is ultimately one of guidance, one of support. God’s presence bears judgment, not for condemnation, but in the hopes of our salvation, our experience of wholeness in relationship with God and each other.
Unlike Roz, it is not God’s hope to catch us messing up. It is not God’s intention that we cower in fear because of His presence. Rather, God’s intent is for us to find comfort, correction, support, and inspiration, realizing that we are never alone in this life, and that the One who was made flesh in Jesus now dwells within us as the Holy Spirit, guiding and sustaining us.
It will probably take a long time to heal from the wrong idea that God is like a cosmic hall monitor, always with us in order to smite us when needed. Perhaps it just takes a daily reminder (like this one) that God IS love, and love can mean correction or judgment, but neither of those is without the grace of our Father who loves us enough to die for us.
Peace be with you!