In the end it turned out to be less difficult than I thought it was going to be.

As sometimes happens in the peculiar mystery that is preaching, the direction for my sermon on Psalm 139 emerged quite naturally and spontaneously from the text. What I thought was an unlikely interpretation was then confirmed by two wise commentators who seemed to go in the same direction upon which I had settled (thank you Bob and Yvette).

Psalm 139 is a sublime piece of poetry. It contains a deep and profound insight into the human condition and our relationship to the Creator whose image we imperfectly manifest. Most readers of Psalm 139 are happy with the sublime parts, but prefer to skip the much less comfortable insight into the human condition that this Psalm carries for those willing to wrestle with the entire poem.

The poet seems to have had an extraordinary spiritual experience to which he alludes in the rhetorical question at the heart of this poem. In verse seven the Psalmist asks,

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

The implied answer is clearly, “Nowhere.”

In Psalm 139 the poet affirms his conviction that there is nowhere anyone can flee from God’s presence. There is nowhere to hide. There is no human condition, experience, or circumstance that has the power to place anyone outside the parameter of God’s presence.

God is present in “heaven”, in “Sheol” (verse 8), and “at the farthest limits of the sea” (verse 9). Even in the “darkness” God is not absent (verses 11,12).

The word translated “darkness” covers just about every aspect of life we are convinced might be a cause of separation. The Hebrew word is choshek.  It means: darkness, misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, wickedness. The Psalmist has become convinced  that even these hard aspects of the human condition lack the power to remove him from God’s presence.

When theologians coined the term “omnipresent” (ie. present in all places at all times, ubiquitous, all-pervasive)  to refer to God, they were not engaging in hyperbole. They were describing a core conviction about the nature of God that stands at the heart of Jewish and Christian faith.

Psalm 139 is a powerful affirmation of faith, a strong statement of God’s presence in the midst of all of life. It is the faith Paul articulated in his letter to the Romans when he wrote,

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38, 39)

 At the heart of the faith to which both Hebrew and Christian sacred texts bear witness is the belief that there is no separation.There is no such thing as a sacred/secular split, as if God is present some places but absent from others.

In his sermon to the Athenians, Paul declared of God that

he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things…. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:25, 28)

So, as long as there is life, God is present. As long as my heart is beating, the blood is coursing through my veins, my lungs are expanding and contracting, babies are being born, trees are growing, flowers are blooming, the sun and moon are appearing and disappearing in the sky, the seasons are progressing, the birds are singing, the rain is falling…. God is present. There is no escape. Even should I want to “flee” there is nowhere to go to remove myself from the presence that haunts every corner of the universe.

But, why should I ever want to flee God’s presence?

That is a question for another day.