Several of my church ladies are quilters, and they go to quilting retreats at the Twin Lakes Christian Center just east of here. Just after they came back one time, we were working on Psalm 139 in our Monday afternoon Bible study group. As she read it, one of these quilters who was in the class got to laughing. They have kids’ church camps at Twin Lakes, and evidently they have some interesting ways of helping the kids memorize Bible verses.
Bev said when they were over there for this retreat, she noticed Bible verses stuck all over the place, in various spots where the kids would be sure to see and read them. On the back of the restroom stall door they had posted the first two verses of this psalm:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
Now, intellectually I know that God is always present with us—but it is a little embarrassing to think that God is there when I sit down on that particular seat (although, so the story goes, it was on such a seat that Martin Luther received the great revelation of God’s grace that sparked the Protestant Reformation).
Several years back Bette Midler sang a song called “From a Distance.” Most of the words are quite nice, dreaming that the world could realize the peace and harmony that appears to be ours when we see the world “from a distance.” But I’m not sure about the theology of the chorus: “God is watching us from a distance.” Is that true?
I don’t think our psalmist would agree. The author of Psalm 139 seems to believe that there is no place we can go to be away from God’s presence. God does not watch “from a distance,” but is there with us wherever we may go.
But some people have not been comforted by this. Jonah tried to flee from God’s presence, and found out the hard way that it couldn’t be done. And have you read the poem “The Hound of Heaven”? (Google it.) The narrator is fleeing, evidently in terror, from God. But eventually, at the end of the long poem, God catches up with him—and then God’s touch, so feared by the narrator, turns out to be a loving caress.