I Am Always With You: Thoughts on God’s Omniscience and Omnipresence

Psalm 139

To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15   My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end*—I am still with you.

It might surprise you that I have actually watched a few romantic comedy movies in my life.

One had a scene with a profound message that resonated with me, and still does.

I have used this scene as part of my messages to couples in the wedding service over the years.

The movie is “Shall We Dance” starring Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon as husband and wife experiencing a rough patch in their marriage.

Gere is having a bit of a mid-life crisis and then discovers a new joy by taking ballroom dancing lessons from Jennifer Lopez.

Sarandon finds out about her husband’s secret hobby and though she knows that Lopez and Gere are not romantically involved, she is angry.

When asked why she is angry, Sarandon emotionally describes why marriage is important.

“Because we need a witness to our lives.

There are a billion people on this planet.

I mean, what does any one life really mean?

But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything:

the good things,

the bad things,

the terrible things,

the mundane things—all of it,

all the time, every day.

You’re saying your life will not go unnoticed,

because I will notice it.

Your life will not go unwitnessed,

because I will be your witness.”

I tell the couple to live out those words.

Celebrate such a relationship.

Revel in the promises and vows the couple make to each other that each will do what Sarandon describes.

But these are words that go beyond marriage.

Isn’t that what we all want?

Isn’t that what we all need?

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow described his “Hierarchy of Needs”.

These needs are those that must be met for each of us to reach our highest wellbeing.

Right in the middle of this hierarchy is the need for belonging, love, and esteem.

Without belonging, love, and esteem, Maslow says, we are simply not complete.

These are deep, trusting and lasting relationships that give our lives meaning and value.

Whether in a family or in a marriage or in a friendship or in a congregation, we want and need someone who will witness our lives.

Someone who will care about every aspect of our lives.

Someone who knows us.

Someone who will always be present.

Which brings us to Psalm 139.

It is a model for such a relationship.

So let’s take a look at this Psalm.

First, it’s one of the “biggies”.

It is said to describe the attributes of God.

Omniscience – all knowing.

1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me. …
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You … are acquainted with all my ways.

Omnipresence – always there.

7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?

Let’s take a look at Omniscience first.

If God is God, God knows everything.

But the Psalmist points out that if God knows everything, God knows the Psalmist.

In the same way, if God knows everything, God knows “me”.

What exactly does God know?

Patrick Miler in his book “Interpreting the Psalms” puts it this way:

Whatever there is in our minds or hearts, bury it as deep as we can, and God will still know it.

And let’s admit it, that God knows “me” that intimately, can be a bit alarming.

I mean we all have skeletons in our closets, right?

Things about our lives that we would rather keep to ourselves?

Yeah, but God knows all that, too.

Such intimacy can be overwhelming.

Sometimes we want to just get away.

How many here like, or even crave, periods of solitude from time to time?

There are times when we just like to be alone.

All you introverts know exactly what I am talking about, right?

Which brings us to omnipresence.

There is no place we can go where God is not.

As Miller puts it:

… [T]o those who because of word or deed would flee from God, there is a truly unsettling aspect to God’s inescapable presence.

Unsettling indeed!

And yet, despite this sometimes unnerving knowledge and presence of God, I find Psalm 139 entirely comforting.

So does the Psalmist.

And he sings this beautiful song of praise.

A song about a deep, trusting, personal, intimate relationship with God.

How does it go?

God has examined him.

Searched his soul and knows him intimately.

God knows what the Psalmist does and says.

God surrounds him and lays a hand on him maybe the way a friend puts a hand on a shoulder in comfort.

And God is always there!

It is all beyond the Psalmist’s ability to comprehend.

It is so overwhelming there is an urge to flee.

It makes me think of one of my favorite children’s books.

Margaret Wise Brown’s, The Runaway Bunny.

A little bunny tells his mother that he is going to run away, becoming variously a fish, a rock on the mountain, a crocus in a hidden garden, a bird, a sailboat, a circus acrobat, and finally a little boy.

Each time, his mother says that she will go and get him, whatever it takes.

Finally, the little bunny resigns himself to stay where he is and remain her little bunny.

That is what the Psalmist is saying.

Wherever I go, and for whatever reason, God will be there beside me.

God creates us, knows us, is present with us, always and forever.

Which brings us to the end of our text.

I come to the end*—I am still with you.

Even at the time of our death, God is with us.

Miller again:

Here is faith affirming that in our death we are caught up in the memory of God, remembered by God, held forever in the hand and mind and heart of God.

Karl Barth, perhaps the premier theologian of the 20th century put it this way:

… [T]here is no corner where [we do] not exist for God, in which [we are] not enclosed by the hand of God behind and before. There is no heaven or hell in which [we are] out of the reach of God’s Spirit or away from [God’s] countenance. There is no change or destruction in which [our being] before God and coexistence with [God] are brought to an end …

This is how God knows me and is present with me always.

That’s why I get a great deal of comfort from Psalm 139.

It’s about intimacy and presence.

How we need it and how God gives it.

And I rejoice, just like the Psalmist.

The words joyfully proclaim the wonder and awe that the God of all creation knows us intimately, is a witness to our lives, and who will always be present.

No matter what.

When I get to this point reading this Psalm, it occurs to me that God’s intimacy and presence causes us to praise God.

I mean what better friend is there than that.

Intimacy and presence, no matter what.

God loves us and we love God back, even when it’s hard.

Isn’t that a good model for the communities we live in?

In our relationships with others?

What if we tried to get to know each other in a way that allows us to understand each other?

To understand each other in a way that allows us to remain present with each other even when it’s hard?

Know each other.

Care for each other.

Become present to each other.

And we remain with each other even when the end comes.

If we do these things, people will probably respond positively.

There will be mutual presence, respect and esteem.

Maybe the polarization we are currently experiencing in our families and communities might be lessened.

This table is a symbol of such a relationship.

At this table God promises that he will love us and be present with us for all eternity.

And we can rejoice.

“Because [God will be] a witness to our lives.

There are a billion people on this planet.

… [W]hat does any one life really mean?

But [God is] promising to care about everything:

the good things,

the bad things,

the terrible things,

the mundane things—all of it,

all the time, every day.

… [Your] life will not go unnoticed,

because [God] will notice it.

Your life will not go unwitnessed,

because [God] will be your witness.”

Thanks be to God!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s