Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 – Specially Crafted by the Divine

Psalm 139 stained glass by Dutch artist Ted Felen (1931-2016)

Lord, you have examined me.
    You know me.
You know when I sit down and when I stand up.
    Even from far away, you comprehend my plans.
You study my traveling and resting.
    You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways.
There isn’t a word on my tongue, Lord,
    that you don’t already know completely.
You surround me—front and back.
    You put your hand on me.
That kind of knowledge is too much for me;
    it’s so high above me that I can’t reach it….

You are the one who created my innermost parts;
    you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb.
I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart.
    Your works are wonderful—I know that very well.
My bones weren’t hidden from you
    when I was being put together in a secret place,
    when I was being woven together in the deep parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my embryo,
    and on your scroll every day was written that was being formed for me,
    before any one of them had yet happened.
God, your plans are incomprehensible to me!
    Their total number is countless!
If I tried to count them—they outnumber grains of sand!
    If I came to the very end—I’d still be with you. (CEB)

It is no wonder so many people struggle with their self-image. Beautiful people reign in television and movies; the rich and powerful are highlighted in the media; and people with perfect teeth and immaculate attire are splashed in front of us in the daily barrage of advertisements. Meanwhile, the rest of us 99% of the population quickly notice we do not measure up to such a standard. You don’t have to be a people watcher to know that less than perfect bodies are the norm and that most folks do not have a budget to live like the other 1% humanity.

If we make comparisons with others too much and for too long, it gets downright depressing. Yet, into this dark abyss of one’s self-image enters the biblical truth that each one of us, no matter our station in life, was personally hand-crafted by a heavenly Being who loves us dearly. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made.

The Creator God took great care to make us and form us just so. The psalmist, David, praised God for the way we were created. The real standard from which we ought to judge ourselves is this: God knows us intimately, inside-and-out, and neither condemns us nor shames us but loves us wholly.

Psalm 139 by Dutch painter Ellen Van Randeraat, 2013

So then, rather than wasting our emotional energy and mental faculties on wishing we looked different or were more like so-and-so who seems to always have it all together, try practicing what David did: Praise God. 

Whenever we have the notion that we do not measure up to our imposed arbitrary standard, keep in mind that the only real measurement is grace. No matter who we are, the entire race of humanity has been created in the image of God, and, on that basis alone, we have inherent value, worth, and majesty. Let us, then, treat ourselves and others with the yardstick of grace.

The inner critic, that is, the inner judgmental dialogue we have with ourselves, needs to be replaced with the truth of Psalm 139. Although we might be rather hard on ourselves and say things in the reclusive parts of our minds and hearts that we would never say to others, nor tolerate others saying about someone else – God speaks to us with tender words of grace. Perhaps you think that only you know the depth of your own sorrows, hurts, fears, insecurities, and worries.  Except….

God. The Lord knows it all intimately – and is not one bit repulsed. You see, God knows that the answer to all the self-doubts is Divine care and protection. You and I have the freedom to plumb the recesses of our hearts and souls – to bring out all that is inside the cluttered closet of our minds and lay it all on the table without fear of God calling you what you call yourself.

Therefore, please do not quickly pass over the inspired words from Holy Scripture contained in today’s psalm. Take the time to carefully digest each phrase slowly so that the message becomes internalized and believed in real-time experience.

One of the theories of human psychology is that people are driven by two primary needs: 

  1. To intimately know another person.
  2. To be intimately known by another person. 

God knows us even better than we know ourselves – and still loves us! There is nothing we learn about ourselves that God does not already know. No human relationship can even come close to the level of knowing that God has for us and about us.

To know God is perhaps the greatest and highest pursuit we could ever enjoy. God is so immense and infinite that we will spend an eternity getting to know the Lord and will never get to the end of it. That is the kind of God we serve. Be encouraged today and always with the reality that you are known and can know God – and even more, loved deeply as a specially fashioned creature.

O God, thank you that I am wonderfully made in your likeness.  I praise you that I am fully accepted, even when I do not accept myself.  In Jesus Christ you have demonstrated the height of your love and mercy.  May this grace be with me every day so that I will conduct myself in a manner worthy of being part of the human family.  Amen.

Psalm 8 – The Majesty of It All

MilkyWay
The Milky Way

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (NRSV)

This little psalm grounds us by dealing with ultimate questions of existence: Who am I?  Why do I exist?  What is the purpose of my life?

The answers to those questions are supremely important because we can lose sight of who we are and why we exist. If we were to peel back the layers of any random person’s life, we may find a deep sense of not belonging, of being in profound touch with their own mortality, and of having a disconnected sense of their personal role in the world. Many people have lost their original purpose of being a person and belonging to the human family in a way that makes a significant contribution to the world.

We live on a big planet, and that causes some people to feel quite small and wonder how they fit in. Gaping at such a large universe we may ask along with psalmist, “What are humans that you are mindful of them?”  This question forms the center of the psalm.  Hebrew poetry is typically arranged to have the front and the end of the poem point to the middle as its focus. So then, the psalmist purposely wrote this psalm so we would consider the great question of what God thinks of humanity within the scope of this exceptionally large universe.

To put this largeness in perspective, if the Milky Way galaxy were the size of the entire continent of North America, our solar system would fit in a coffee cup. Even now, two Voyager spacecraft are hurtling toward the edge of the solar system at a rate of 100,000 miles per hour. For thirty-five years they have been speeding away from Earth, having traveled 9 billion miles. When engineers beam a command to the spacecraft at the speed of light, it takes over 13 hours to arrive. Yet this vast neighborhood of our sun—in truth, the size of a coffee cup—fits along with several hundred billion other stars and their planets in the Milky Way, one of perhaps 100 billion such galaxies in the universe. To send a light-speed message to the edge of that universe would take 15 billion years.

Moraine Lake, Canada
Moraine Lake in Alberta, Canada

Out of the billions of galaxies in the universe, what is planet Earth that God should care about it?  Even on our planet there are billions of creatures. Yet, out of all those bugs, animals, fish, and birds, God has a special relationship with us, humanity, and cares for us deeply. God has even entrusted us with the responsibility to care for creation.  We are the only creatures who have the charge to steward all that God has created.  To put it another way, we, as people created in the image of God, have a job that is befitting of royalty, and it is more than a duty – it is a delight.

Furthermore, it is a godly and spiritual thing to engage in good creation care, whether it is properly feeding and caring for a pet, properly attending to relationships with grace and civility, or playing a crucial role in responsible land use.  Whatever it may be within this vast created world, God has entrusted to us this expansive Earth we live upon.  Literally everything in all creation is under our stewardship.

Out of all the creatures on earth, only people have been given the task of caring for every other created thing.  Only we as people have the self-awareness and perspective of the world which is needed to govern the world.  So, then, we can only find our true purpose and belonging in the stewardship of creation.  Care-giving is at the heart of being a person.

The glitch to this, and why so many lose their way, is that the world is still living under a curse due to the original fall of humanity into sin.  When we allow other dominions to supersede God’s dominion, then we have major problems.  When the power of money, or the significance of a position or job title, or the ability to do certain tasks is our basic identity and place of belonging, then we will likely succumb to anxiety. Other dominions cannot help us find our true God-given majesty as people created in God’s image.  Living any other way than being a proper steward of the world is beneath us because we have inherent dignity as God’s vice-regents over creation.

“There is no such thing as a small thing – only small things done with big love.” –Mother Teresa

That sentiment perfectly captures the vision of the psalmist – that all people are crowned with glory and honor and rule with God to do all the small things of life with a love that comes from our Creator.

Going forward, we have the possibilities of engaging in good stewardship of all that God has given us.  We can use our words in ways that care for others and build them up, rather than saying uncaring things which are not helpful.  We have the chance to be attentive to all the little things of life, whether gardening, building a bird house, working with diligence and care at our jobs, or keeping our community clean and its citizens healthy and happy, it is all important and has a significant place.

Let us, then, continually improve what we do, no matter what it is, so that it befits us as God’s people crowned with honor.  May this topsy-turvy year become one of joy and contentment, knowing the majesty we share with God as humans in his wondrous world.

Creator God, you make all things and weave them together in an intricate tapestry of life. Teach us to respect the fragile balance of life and to care for all the gifts of your creation. Guide by your wisdom those who have power and authority, that, by the decisions they make, life may be cherished, and a good and fruitful Earth may continue to show your glory and sing your praises. Almighty God, you have called us to tend and keep the garden of your creation. Give us wisdom and reverence for all your plants and animals who share this planet with us and whose lives make possible our own. Help us to remember that they too love the sweetness of life and join with us in giving you praise. Amen.