Ps. 139:7-12 (NASB):
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will leade me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.
I’ve always found this passage, and indeed the entire Psalm, to be very comforting and encouraging. At the same time, the theology in some of it is apt to baffle some evangelicals. “If I make my bed in Sheol [the Hebrew understanding of hell, the underworld], You are there.” What? Isn’t hell supposed to be the total absence of God??
I’ve actually speculated about this in other posts, and I won’t do it again here. But what I take as a powerful meaning from these verses is that God doesn’t take a break from us. In our Christianized churchy subculture, we too often get the idea that in order to connect with God, we have to separate ourselves, get totally isolated from the world around us, shut off all external noise, and get “spiritual.” The “clergy” are often the objects of jealousy by the “laity” because they have more time to do the spiritual stuff that brings us closer to God. (I put clergy and laity in quotes because neither is a Biblical concept.) As a pastor, more than once I was told by members of my congregation that they believed following Jesus was easier for me because as a full-time minister, I had the time to focus on “spiritual” activities like prayer and Bible study while everyone else worked for a living.
Pardon me while I go in the other room and laugh my head off. BRB…
The thing is, this mindset really comes more from Greek philosophy than it does from the Bible. Wasn’t it Plato who taught that the spirit world was good and the natural world was evil? Isn’t that the heart of gnosticism? (It is, actually–those were rhetorical questions.)
But that line of thinking actually flies in the face of Ps. 139. Hell, (pun intended) if we can’t escape His presence in Hades itself, what makes us think we have to get all separated from our natural existence in order to meet Him? Not that there’s not a time to get alone with God–even Jesus did that–but to think that somehow He isn’t near us except when we do that. Sometimes we might need that, just to refocus and regroup. But HE doesn’t really need that from us. What God longs for is just a heart that is turned toward Him, and consequently is aware of His nearness right there in the natural world.
As a worshiper, I used to treat God’s presence as this skittish, almost-fragile spiritual dynamic that was so easily grieved that when we felt His presence, we must be very, very careful, or He would flee away, like a timid wild animal. What rubbish that was; I mean, really. To be so wary of somehow scaring God off that we couldn’t even enjoy it when He was kind enough to manifest Himself in our midst. His presence isn’t rare or skittish; in fact…we can’t escape His presence.
And here’s the part that really rattles religious cages. He isn’t just there when people are seeking Him. He might make His presence known in those places, but He’s there whether or not we sense Him. He is present in the darkest alleys. He’s there watching the drug deals and the prostitutes. He’s in the sleazy dives. We cannot escape His presence. We’ve just conditioned ourselves to look for Him in certain places and not in others.
I guess personally I’m just at this place where I want to know Jesus in my everydays. I take great comfort in knowing that He didn’t walk out of the room when I said “Amen”–nor did He just walk into the room when I shut out the world. I’ve come to hear His voice in the simplest of ways–through something that came over the radio, or on the news, or in a conversation, or just walking from point A to point B. I guess I’ve come to believe it’s actually more spiritual of me to be able to engage God in any situation, not just in controlled, sterile environments–to be acutely aware that God is big enough, and great enough, that His hand can and does lead us in the brightest of days and the darkest of nights–through the sweetest moments of fellowship, and the depths of depression.
Think about that; meditate on it. We cannot escape His presence.
There is no escape. And that’s a good thing.