Newborns can’t do much for themselves. They are entirely dependent on others for their survival. How they are treated by their caretakers begins to shape how they understand the world: Is it safe? Is it trustworthy?
Slowly and surely, relationships are built on that foundation. Hopefully, caretakers have been nurturing and reliable; Baby begins to recognize them and smiles at their approach. The relationship feels secure.
As babies learn to crawl, putting a little independent distance between themselves and Mom or Dad, they draw on that sense of security. Watch what happens: they clamber down from Mom’s lap, ready to explore; they crawl a short distance away; but then they pause, turn, and look back over their shoulder. Is Mom smiling and nodding in encouragement? Then Baby smiles back, and goes back to crawling. But if Mom has a look of fear or concern on her face, that look will suddenly be mirrored in Baby’s face, and he or she will crawl back to Mom for safety, without a clue about what the threat might be.
Over time, Baby “internalizes” the quality of these relationships. In a sense, even when they grow up into adulthood, even when they live thousands of miles from their parents, they still carry a bit of Mom and Dad inside them. For good or ill, that relationship is part of them wherever they go.
Is it possible that the psalmist had that kind of relationship with God?
. . .
In Psalm 139, we’ve seen how the psalmist marvels at being known so intimately by God: “That kind of knowledge is too much for me; it’s so high above me that I can’t reach it” (Ps 139:6, CEB). The poet then continues in the same spirit:
Where could I go to get away from your spirit?
Where could I go to escape your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there.
If I went down to the grave, you would be there too!
If I could fly on the wings of dawn,
stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean—
even there your hand would guide me;
even there your strong hand would hold me tight!
If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me;
the light will become night around me,”
even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you!
Nighttime would shine bright as day,
because darkness is the same as light to you! (vss. 7-12)
It’s possible to read this as the psalmist looking for somewhere to hide from God, but realizing the futility of trying. As Martha Reeves and the Vandellas once sang: Nowhere to run to, baby; nowhere to hide. And there’s some truth in this. Anyone who rightly fears God knows that their sin can’t be hidden.
But these verses have to be read in context. The poet’s heart is laid bare; the words brim with the confidence of being in tune with God, even to the point saying, “Your enemies are my enemies!” (vss. 19-22). There is a deep sense of intimacy between them:
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. (vss. 13-16)
These are words of praise, not anxiety. God’s care began even before the psalmist’s birth! The response, again, is amazement:
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. (vss. 17-18)
“No matter where I go, no matter what I do,” the psalmist seems to say, “I’d still be with you, in your presence to the very end.”
. . .
We carry our parents with us. If, as children, we knew the security of our parents’ love, we more naturally see the world as they do, and do the things that please them. That’s different than the kind of anxious people-pleasing that comes from having to earn Mom and Dad’s love, from never being sure that we’ve done enough, never being sure that we are enough.
The psalmist, I think, is an example of the former as versus the latter. And as we’ll see in the next post, this goes right along with seeing oneself as wonderfully made.