I wrote a bit yesterday about Psalm 139 – The Inescapable God – and how God can almost feel too much (too much light – even the darkness is not dark to you, too much knowledge – how weighty are your thoughts, how vast the sum of them, too much comfort – You hem me in behind and before.)
And the big one:
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
I went away last year to the Living Waters Discipleship week (read more). One of the things we were asked to do right near the beginning was to say that line – I am fearfully and wonderfully made – out loud. About ourselves. And I wanted to. I love that line. I love telling people that line if they are hurting and in need of comfort. I affirm with all my heart that God makes each one of us and makes us beautiful, unique, worthy. I wanted to say it for myself too. But I couldn’t. The words got stuck in my throat. I couldn’t say it because on some deep level I didn’t believe it. Honestly, I felt uncomfortable. I felt ashamed. I wanted to run away.
When I returned to this Psalm to preach on it, I did some thinking about its writer, King David. I like the story of David (it starts in 1 Samuel 16 and finishes in 1 Kings 2). David was a man after God’s heart, and he was a big-hearted man and a passionate man. He never seems to have done anything by halves – from his defeat of Goliath through to his passionate friendship with Jonathan, whom he loved “more than any woman”, and even the story of Bathsheba is the story of a crime committed in the heat of passion. He often thinks before doing, reacting first and regretting later. He makes countless mistakes and yet he grows closer to God in the light of those mistakes. He seeks forgiveness and he intimately knows the comfort of God. In spite – because of? – all this, he could write – believe? – he was fearfully and wonderfully made.
This great anointed king, commander of armies, also wrote Psalm 131:
O God, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like a weaned child within me
God’s comfort, for David, wasn’t an abstract idea. It seems to be a very real thing. It was like a mother holding a child. This is a primal image of the mother, the first comforter. The one who has all the time and love in the world to lavish upon a child who is loved, not for the things he does, but for who he is. For his inward being. The love of one who sees everything he does – who is “acquainted with all his ways”, who saw him even in the womb and loved him before he drew breath for the first time. A true parent’s love, gentle and comforting, but also fierce and protective.
To a certain extent, our willingness to accept this kind of love and comfort from God depends on our relationships with our earthly parents. We do not live in an ideal world. For some of us, it is easy to relate to these Psalms because we had a good experience of our parents. For others, there is an absence where this love hasn’t quite been fulfilled. We have a gap. Perhaps the loss of a parent, or negative experiences leaving us feeling misunderstood, abandoned, without worth. Perhaps a feeling of never being safe, or no sense of well-being. In a world that idealises parent-child relationships it can be very hard to admit to some of the feelings that this can produce – anger, shame, despair. It is like there is a void into which our friends can pour love, our mentors can pour understanding and all the comfort in the world and yet it leaks out, it remains empty.
And even if we had good relationships with parents, we still live in a world where pain and loss and grief are part of life. We are still hurt. We are still in need of comfort. Various things that might happen in our lives can make it very difficult for us to say I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wrongs we have done, and wrongs done to us can make us run away and hide.
If you find yourself in these places, there is good news. God’s comfort is not unreachable. God is a good and loving and forgiving Father. God is a good and loving and forgiving Mother. God is not angry at us.
Can we say that, and believe it?
God is not angry at me.
For me, its a work in progress. I know that the anger of God is finished. The Cross has seen to that. We live in a state of grace, not karma, as Bono once said.
What will it take for me to fully realise that I am fearfully and wonderfully made? Would would it look like?
What would it be like if the whole world truly knew this – knew it deep down?