“Hemmed In” - Psalm 139
“O LORD, you have searched me and known me…”
How wonderful – and how fearful – it is to be known by God.
The Psalmist says in Psalm 139, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me.”
“You have searched me” – the word can have the sense of digging into, of drilling down. “Lord, you have excavated me.” One person translates it, “Lord, You dig me – you dig me, Lord.”
God digs you. When no one else notices you – when no one else has the time to bother – God searches you. You are endlessly, fascinatingly interesting to God. God doesn’t get tired of you. God searches you.
And Psalm 139 says that God knows you. This is the God whose eye is on the sparrow. This is the God who keeps your tears in a bottle. This is the God who took out the divine knitting needles and crocheted you together stitch by stitch in your mother’s womb. This is the God who tallies the number of every hair on your head: admittedly easier for some of us than others, but still… This is the God for whom there are no anonymous sheep, to whom nobody is a write-off, for whom no one is lost in the crowd: the personal God who loves the number one: one lost sheep, one missing coin, one sinner lost and found.
How wonderful it is to be known by God.
And yet how fearful a thing to be searched and known by God.
I know that many people describe Divinity School as of time of searching for God, but to me it more often felt like I was the one being searched, that God was searching me. It felt like passing through security before boarding an airplane – I was being excavated, dug out, frisked, shook down – and there was no way to escape.
The Psalmist knows this. The Psalmist marvels, (or is it laments?): “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” The Hebrew word for “hem in” used here doesn’t mean cuddle. It doesn’t refer to a protective embrace, a great big bear hug, or to being wrapped in bubble wrap. It’s not a hedge of protection – it’s concertina wire for trespassers. The word for “hem in” is the word used when a city is laid under siege. “You besiege me, O God.” “You hem me in. You besiege me. You entrap me. You encircle me. You beleaguer me, behind and before. You will not leave me alone.”
How fearful a thing to be searched and known by this God.
And yet how wonderful, how wonderful. How wonderful to know that the battle is over. No more need to hide: all is accepted. You will be searched – but nothing will be found within you that is not already known and embraced. You discover that mercy’s honest captive is more free than the lying fugitive. You find that we feared to give up everything, only to have been given more than everything.
The surrender to the siege is a sweet one. For the God of unconditional surrender is the God of unconditional love. The God who won’t let us escape is also the God who fearfully and wonderfully made us in the first place. Our frame was not hidden from this God when we were being formed in secret, intricately woven in the depths of mystery. God’s eyes beheld our unformed substance – and in God’s book where written all the days that were formed for us, when none of them as yet existed.
How wonderful it is to be searched, to be known, to be besieged by this God.
Director, Thriving Rural Communities