THERE IS A PERVERSENESS TO human thoughts about God that would be risible if it were not so tragic. We find ways to make him small.
A marvelous antidote is Psalm 139. It paints an exalted picture of God, yet does so in stunningly personal ways, as befits a psalm. In particular:
(1) God sees and knows everything (Ps. 139:1-6). The psalmist might have made that point as I just did — in the abstract. Instead, true to his form, he addresses God, acknowledging that this God’s knowledge is not passive and is not merely comprehensive: it is active and personal. This God knows the psalmist so thoroughly that he knows every movement his body makes, and every habit of his life, but also every thought he entertains and every word he speaks — even before they are formulated. Hebrews 4:13 says as much.
(2) God is omnipresent, and therefore inescapable (Ps. 139:7-12). Yet again, the thought in the text is not abstract. When David asks, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (Ps. 139:7), it is pretty obvious that there is a part of him that wants to get away from God. It cannot be done. If David were to fly to the heavens or descend to Sheol, if he were to travel as far east or as far west as might be imagined, if he were to hide in the darkness — nothing could hide him from God’s searching gaze. By the end of the psalm, it is clear that David does not want to escape from this God (cf. Rom. 8:38-39).
(3) God is the Creator and providential Ruler (Ps. 139:13-18). Here David does not hark back to the initial creation, but to his own formation in his mother’s womb — which formation is, finally, nothing other than a work of God, for all its terrifying complexity. Nor does this God relinquish control once the creature is made: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps. 139:16). In Scripture, this truth does not compromise human responsibility, but increases our faith. Perhaps it is the sheer breadth of such knowledge that prompts David to pen the last two verses of this section: God’s thoughts cannot be numbered, for they are more numerous than the grains of sand by the sea — which is no exaggeration at all.
(4) God is utterly holy (Ps. 139:19-24). David’s response to evil people is merely a function of his loyalty to God (Ps. 139:19-22). What saves it from mere vindictive self-righteousness is the fact that in the light of this God’s holiness, David is no less resolved to deal with any evil in his own life (Ps. 139:23-24).