Psalm 139 has been a favorite of mine since I was a young mom with a brood of children. I’ve always preferred the older versions of scripture where the Psalmist asks in verse seven, “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” (RSV) Whither seems more encompassing than newer versions which interpret the word as “Where.” Where is a place, a location on a map, “Whither” digs deeper into our psychic. More than a location, it is also a state of being. It is how we are living in the world at this moment in time.
I like the older interpretation because it tells me that whatever situation I find myself in, God is there. I’m reminded that when I find myself in a dark place, wallowing in a mess, searching for a way to make sense of my world, God is with me. The psalmist tells me that even in the moments I am tempted to believe, God has deserted me, I am wrong, for there is no place where God is not. I have often read this psalm at the beside of one who is dying as reassurance, that even in death, they are in God’s hands.
The psalm begins with the recognition, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me.”(NRSV) God is aware of the facts in our lives, knows where our hearts bleed and what makes our spirits soar. God is also aware when we are less than our best selves. At least less than we would like our circle of friends and family to know of us. Our all-seeing God would be frightening, or even threatening, were it not that God is also “all loving.” God knows the secrets of our hearts, God understands what motivates us to speak and act the way we do. God loves us as we are, but loves us far too much to leave us in our messes, our bad choices and our foolish decisions.
This psalm has carried me through sick children, a messy divorce, single parenting and its resultant poverty. The words encouraged me when I made a mid-life course direction. I have found comfort in its words as I have comforted others. The simple message that God is with us gives me hope. I find strength in the knowledge that God will never let go of us. The God from whom we cannot hide, wants most of all that we realize we are loved, that we are God’s beloved and precious children. Whatever we might face in life today, we have this assurance, we will not face it alone.