“That I neither feel how she should be loved, nor know how she should be worthy, is the opinion that fire cannot melt out of me: I will die in it at the stake.”
- Shakespeare, "Much Ado About Nothing"
Shakespeare’s Benedick utters this candid response after young Claudio confesses his love for the Governor of Messina’s daughter, Hero. Benedick’s description of the Governor’s daughter is quite pernicious; we half expect Claudio to Judo chop him, right? But this line, written in the late 1500’s, still bites with relevance. Isn’t this how we often think of ourselves?
I’m just not lovable…
I’m just not worthy…
I’m just not pretty/strong/smart/talented enough…
What’s more? We believe these things with such vehemence - reinforced by the lies of others and our culture - that we’re unwilling to relent. We’ll wave the flag of our self despise all the way to “the stake.”
So how should we respond to a God that says otherwise? How should we respond to the King whose full knowledge of us is not a deterrent to His full acceptance of us?
In Psalm 139:1-6 David teaches us what God thinks of us, and, as a result, what we should think of Him.
He Knows Us Perfectly
“O LORD, you have searched me and known me!”
Here, David begins the psalm by laying out the essential truth that he’ll unfold in the following verses.
“You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar."
God knows all of our actions. Hebrew parallelism sets “sit down” against “rise up”, showing that God knows the gap. Everything from when your feet hitting the floor to when you set 3 alarms for your 8AM class is known by Him. Not one step or one sigh goes unseen.
But God also knows our thoughts. We can fool a lot of people with our actions; we can say the right thing, be in the right place, make the right move. And let’s be honest, some of us have gotten pretty good at complicating our intentions before others. But God clearly perceives them from far away. He reads your mind like the McRib billboard 2 miles out.
“You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.”
Here, David pauses and applies God’s Sovereign sight again to all that we do. But he goes a step further; the word “search” here literally means “winnow.” Just as the farmer winnows, or separates the chaff from the wheat, so God does with our actions and thoughts. He sees which ones are good, and which are evil. Again, we can fool our brothers but not our God.
“Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.”
David continues to navigate the terrifying tunnel of God’s glorious gaze. Surely if we just keep our mouths shut God will be none the wiser, right? Woefully wrong. David applies God’s eye to that which we use to conceal so much of our hearts: silence. God knows the meaning beneath the words we never say.
Now if you’re anything like me, such an exposing reality makes you feel a little squeamish. With wincing, we wait for God to pronounce the surely inevitable, “Unworthy!” But the Author of All things changes that narrative.
He Holds Us Passionately
“You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”
Why do I say “passionately”? Isn’t this the sweet Psalm 139 that so many run to? I use that word because the “hem” here means to enclose, or besiege. God pursues us with the vigor of an attacker planning to envelope and overpower his opponent. There is no escape.
And as for the hand he lays upon us, Charles Spurgeon says it’s like that of an officer grabbing a prisoner. This is not so much a hand of blessing as it is one of ownership!
God knows us perfectly, but he doesn’t bestow upon us the looks of disapproval or rejection we so often fear. He desires to keep us so close that He literally makes is impossible for us to escape Him, snatching us for His own with Ever-Present Passion.
He Evokes Our Praise
How, then, should we respond? David prescribes the only suitable course of action.
“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”
In the face of God’s penetrating perception and passionate pursuit, David cries out that these are wonders unimaginable! These helpless shouts of glory find their place in the gospel of Jesus Christ. For Ephesians 3:1-6 reveals the mystery that astounded David: the unloved are now loved, the unworthy are now worthy, and the perishing are now partakers of the promise of the gospel, which is eternal life.
Such knowledge of His Grace is too wonderful for me!