The promise of that protection kept my heart 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.