Friday, March 09, 2007

Reachable, yet Untouchable: a God of Paradox and Synonym

From birth, I was taught that I could approach God anytime, anywhere. This was a comfort to me although it wasn’t until I began traveling that I truly discovered the realness of this God as described in Psalm 139: "You hem me in, behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. . . . Where can I go from your Spirit? . . . Your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast" (Psalm 139: 5, 7, 9, 10; NIV).

The promise of that protection kept my he
art from thumping audibly during a border interrogation in East Berlin. It kept the scream in my throat instead of letting it escape when a sword swallower came after me in Beijing. It kept me firm in Cairo when a swarm of panhandlers accosted me. It kept me calm on a moonlit night by the Sea of Galilee. It kept me safe during a careening ride through Paris. And it brought me peace riding through Johannesburg amidst pre-election rioting.

The promise of that protection keeps me going still, although my everyday life as a principal and school teacher seems boring and safe compared to the exotic excitement of my sometime summertime escapes. Still, I revel in the knowledge that even at home the God of Psalm 139 is always with me. This God is easy to believe in, easy to trust in, easy to be comfortable with. And yet Old Testament readers know there is a side of God that is not so reachable or comfortable. This side of God requires that we “fear Him” and keep our a distance from Him. If seemingly diametrically opposed to the more common view of God, it must be reckoned with nonetheless, and if possible, reconciled.


The "reachableness" of the God I find in Psalm 139 is necessary for comfort, courage, and community. I need to feel the strength and power of God in my life. I need to feel His warmth, examine His light, and experience His protection to survive the emotional elements of human nature. All this, I find in the nearness of God. But the "untouchableness" of God is also necessary for revelation, respect and reflection. I need to know the strength and power of God in my life, but I need distance to give me perspective, space to give me cognizance, and room to give me thought. All this, I find in the "farness" of God. The paradox is that God must be both near and far if I am to feel Him and know Him in all his “awful” comfort and glory. The miracle is that He can be, and is. Paradox and synonym, different but the same.

2 comments:

Heidi said...

Psalm 139 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. My goal this year is to memorize the whole passage. I'm about a third of the way through it. A few weekends ago, a friend described how she read 1 Corinthians 13 every day for a year, and I thought I'd try that with Psalm 139. The Bible is amazing in that there are so many layers to the simple words. Have a happy Sabbath!

Rondi said...

This is my ultimate favorite chapter in the Bible. I just love knowing that God is wherever I go, beginning to end.

On the other hand, 1 Corinthians 13 is one of my father's favorites. One year, he give several worship talks on that chapter, all different.