1. It’s hard to believe but it has been almost five years since I first watched Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Lance Armstrong. I’ve never followed the career of Lance Armstrong but for some reason decided to watch his sessions with Oprah. What I saw was disturbing. Arrogance, pride, narcissism, deceit, betrayal, out-of-control desire to win, bullying, disloyal, disgrace and the emotional disconnect. Yes, there was remorse and the realization of what he had done but has still not become sin for him. He used words like “sick” and “flawed” when the one word he needs to understand is “sin”. But, there is nothing in his background that would lead him to that. He is a lost soul for now. He is committed to the process of making amends and therapy and dealing with the ego and pride but, as he said, “I lost my way. I cannot lose my way again and only I can control it.”
2. Psalm 139 is about a man who also lost his way at a point in his life that affected the lives of many around him. In fact, for some it was fatal. He lied, cheated, stole, murdered, betrayed and abandoned those most loyal to him. Yet, instead of therapy and self-reliance, he put himself under the mercy of God. Years later, he wrote this Psalm:
You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
Several months ago we talked about the nature of the new American religion: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Remember the five points? Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth. 2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. 3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. 4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem. 5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Nothing could be further from David’s mind than this. Here he is describing a relationship between himself and a God who knows him intimately. He is not part of a large group or a demographic. He is a person created and loved by God.
The image of “search” here is not like frisk or even a routine examination. It is literally a word for cutting deeply – like surgery – to the very core. What do we read in Hebrews 4:12? “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing should and spirit, joints and marrow.” The word of God works two ways. When we open it we discover more about God but just as true is God uses that same opening to surgically enter our lives. The word works two ways.
It is knowing that God is not only all knowing in a vague universal way but He is all knowing about us individually. He is not removed.
He is familiar with all our ways. He pays attention to my life. He knows our words before we speak them. He knows what we cannot find words to say.
Have you had a relationship like that? We talk about knowing someone so well that we can finish their sentences. We use it to describe a relationship of trust – not one of threat. That person is so familiar with us we can trust them to respond the way we would. That is what David is describing. It’s not God dictating what we are going to say or our words somehow being controlled. It is he is so familiar with us that he could finish our sentences. He understands us that well.
People who don’t love us can never know us completely. They might be able to analyze us completely but they cannot know us. People live in fear of being found out and exposed. Rosaria Butterfield has written a book titled “Secret Thoughts Of An Unlikely Convert” and talks about having no fear of openly declaring herself a lesbian but lives with the dread of being exposed as not smart enough to be tenured at the university.
There is no fear here or sense of invasion of privacy or reluctance to disclose – just acceptance of God’s ability to see all the way to the core and not harm or betray. There is no fear of being known. That is a foreign thought to Lance Armstrong, isn’t it? He lived in fear of the examination that would expose him. He lived in fear of anyone being familiar with him or that close to him.
3. and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
What is the knowledge that is too wonderful for David? It is that with all that God knows about him – his flaws, his failures, his sins – God has laid his hand on him. I heard someone this week describe their Christian experience as “chutes and ladders”. They would get so far up and then slide all the way down again and have to start over.
That’s not uncommon. It may actually be common. We think God’s hand is on those who are good or special or more spiritual but not on me. Being anointed is not for me. It is for someone else who is better. That knowledge is not wonderful. What is wonderful is that God’s hand is on you and me. It is beyond our understanding…and it is still true.
It’s not a sense of “why me?” or arrogance but the certainty and wonder of God’s calling. He says it earlier in Psalm 8:
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
4. And then he is amazed even more at the wonder of God’s interest.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
There have been times in my life when felt like God was pursuing me…and not simply waiting patiently for me. I was right. God does pursue. He does not simply wait passively for us to come to the end of ourselves. Remember “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson?
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me’.
I think God pursues us in an unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace and deliberate speed. I think he is pursuing Lance Armstrong and others who have no sense of sin or need for forgiveness.
5. For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
It’s true that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. There are really two thoughts here. First, we are fearfully made. We are made in a way that causes astonishment. It’s not just one time astonishment but every time we discover something new about the way we are made we are astonished – or should be. For instance:
In one hour, your heart works hard enough to produce the equivalent energy to raise almost one ton of weight one yard off the ground.
You use 200 muscles to take one step.
The average human’s heart will beat 3000 million times in their lifetime.
The human brain cell can hold 5 times as much information as the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Your nose can remember 50,000 different scents.
The body has 60,000 miles of blood vessels.
Second, we are wonderfully made. This is an unusual word the way it is used here. It means we are made to be distinct, to be separated and set apart. We are related to the rest of creation but we are unique. The Human Genome Project identified 24,000 genes in the human body. Of those, 98 percent are common to many other animals but that difference makes all the difference between us and them. Not only between us and them. The genetic difference between you and the person next to you is even smaller – .2% – but the variation of individual differences is endless. We are made in such a way that is astonishing and wonderful.
6. How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand
when I awake,I am still with you.
Francis Collins was the head of the Human Genome Project and wrote a book titled “The Language of God”. He introduces that language this way:
“The human genome consists of all the DNA of our species, the hereditary code of life. This newly revealed text was 3 billion letters long, and written in a strange and cryptographic four-letter code. Such is the amazing complexity of the information carried within each cell of the human body, that a live reading of that code at a rate of one letter per second would take thirty-one years, even if reading continued day and night.
Printing these letters out in regular font size on normal bond paper and binding them all together would result in a tower the height of the Washington Monument. For the first time on that summer morning this amazing script, carrying within it all of the instructions for building a human being, was available to the world.”
That script is hard to imagine.
The information contained in a single cell would fill a stack of paperback books 200 feet high.
It would fill two hundred 500-page telephone directories.
The human body is made up of 100 trillion cells and every cell has all the genetic information.
There is 6 feet of DNA in each of our 100 trillion cells of the human body packed into a structure only 0.0001 centimeter across.
If all the DNA in the 100 trillion cells of the human body was put end to end it would reach to the sun and back over 600 times.
7. Then this wonderful, pristine world of trust, familiarity, and elegance is broken into by wickedness.
If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
It’s just like our world, isn’t it? There are some things worthy of our hatred. This is from “Perelandra” by C.S. Lewis when Ransom is fighting the creature given over completely to evil.
“Then an experience that perhaps no good man can ever have in our world came over him — a torrent of perfectly unmixed and lawful hatred. The energy of hating, never before felt without some guilt, without some dim knowledge that he was failing fully to distinguish the sinner from the sin, rose in his arms and legs till he felt that they were pillars of burning blood. What was before him appeared no longer a creature of corrupted will. It was corruption itself to which will was attached only as an instrument…. It is perhaps difficult to understand why this filled Ransom not with horror but with a kind of joy. The joy came from finding at last what hatred was made for.”
It is not hatred that enjoys hating or is consumed by hatred itself or that comes from fear and prejudice or impulse but pure and lawful hatred of that which is evil. There is a place and a reason for hatred.
8. Search me,God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
So we have circled back to where we began – except this is not simply an acknowledgement that God has searched and known us. It is a request to keep searching and knowing because there is no end to us – no bottom to the well.
“See if there is any offensive way in me” can be put another way. “See if there is anything about the way I am heading that will cause sorrow for me and others.”
It is not the same as “wicked” in the previous verses. It means sorrow. Is there something about my life that will eventually cause me and others to grieve? I think about that when I think back on the interview with Lance Armstrong. I think about it with myself and with you. Is there something in the way we are headed that will one day cause sorrow and disappointment?
Finally, lead me in the way everlasting. We do not find the way everlasting on our own. We do not find life that is truly life on our own. On our own we lose our way or we get caught up in things that are short term victories and momentary successes but not the way that lasts forever. We do not find the way everlasting by vowing to take control of our lives and being determined we will not lose our way again.
I found myself praying for Lance Armstrong that night. Not because he is a celebrity or because I was attracted to his personality or even thinking about what good he could do as a believer. It is almost out of sorrow and pity having seen what a life without God has become. I pray that God will pursue him and others like him with no sense of sin and will lead someone into their lives who will introduce them to the way everlasting.