Psalm 139 is one of my favorite songs. The first eighteen verses describes the wonder of a cradle-to-grave life under the watchful eye of God, where despite some resistance and hiccups in life, he is aware of the minutest details that define his Creator’s self-appointed faithful ministrations. There is simply no equivalent experience that matches the eternal caretaking here on earth.
Whether we are conscious and appreciative of our Lord’s all-embracing oversight would rightly depend on our rapport with Him, as the psalm’s writer had indicated. In fact, his manner of speech is indicative of one who is conversing with a life companion with whom separation is a misnomer. Even when his thoughts and actions verge on wickedness, he is not alone. I know that if my own consciousness is as finely tuned as his, I would be ashamed of many of my own thoughts, speech and actions before they are birthed. Our training since childhood towards individualism, naturally lends itself to a life of self-fulfillment in preference to God’s options for us, unless our Lord hems us into a corner. Nevertheless, we have no justification, as we are responsible for our choices. At this point, the psalmist probably thought that he was at the culmination of his perfect walk with his God.
Then a sudden overwhelming commotion within the song’s writer deviated him from extolling the mysteries of God’s knowledge and power to an apparent crusading spirit. The next four verses (19-22) sounded more in the genre of one of the anger and vengeance psalms. The transition is so marked that several commentaries just skipped over these verses. The human psyche fascinates me as there are teaching moments in most of our thought and behavior processes, and the Bible is replete with such transforming stories.
However, this little drama is quite instructive. His spiritual meditation so overwhelmed him that he felt indignant that God’s enemies were seemingly thriving, and equated them as his own. But would we be misjudged to hate those who hate the Lord, and loathe those who rise up against him? Surely not! Perhaps his ‘righteousness’ in the wake of God’s favours juxtaposed against His Lord’s almighty capability in the arena of judgment and punishment evoked a sense of revenge that simmered just under his veins. An unconscious projection, if ever there was one.
But as abruptly as he articulated those self-justified thoughts, the psalmist seemed to catch himself. Is it not too presumptuous of me, a piece of clay, to be adjudicating with perfectness and integrity, the unrighteous and their deeds? This realisation forcibly brought him back to the status of his own human predicament in view of his attentive Creator’s grace and largesse (in the first eighteen verses), and returns him to his initial theme of conversation, with an added personal perspective. Now, he implores, not for a further condemnation and punishment of the wicked, which was at the tip of his tongue, but for a pardoning grace that reaches into the depths of his own being (verses 23-24):
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
This is where an accurate view of the reality of his own fragile humanity begins, as he came to terms through his own awareness of the Divine scrutiny.