Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"All the days ordained for me..."

In Psalm 139, David says, "O Lord you have searched me and known me; you know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You know my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord" (Ps 139:1-4).

Which brings up a question: If God knows what I"m going to say before I say it—if, as Jesus said, he knows what I need before I ask—then what's the point of saying my prayers to him?

Well, the psalm also says "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be". If all our days are known beforehand, why bother to live any of them?

Right? OK, the point of living life isn't just for God to see what we do, as though he needed new information; it's for us to live it. And the point of prayer isn't just for God to hear what we say, as though he needed new information; it's for us to pray it.

In other words, praying is for my benefit, not his. Sometimes when I pray, and tell God what I'm hoping for, I realize that that's not what I really want, or that I really want a lot more, or something else. And whenever I pray, it reminds me that I need God, that nothing that really matters in life is under my control. It's really important for me to remember that.

But what does it mean, "All the days ordained for me..."? It seems to me that there are two possibilities:

  • If this refers to a prescribed set of days written in God's book (as the translation "ordained" suggests), then one has to wonder, can I get away from it or not? Again, two possibilities.
    • If I can deviate from the plan, then once I've gone off it like in 1961, then my life has been off it since then, and it's not much of a book -- it's more like a fantasy.
    • If I can’t deviate from the plan, that means David couldn't either, and his misdeeds (adultery and murder, to name two) were prescribed by God. As someone once said, "I don't think so."
  • So this must be a descriptive set of days written in God's book. (Not all translations have the sense of God ordaining the psalmist's days; some have more the sense of knowing in advance.) If we can deviate from this description, it's not a very good one. So if we slip up, even if we do terrible things as David did, God knows we were going to do it.
And as with any Bible passage, the next question is, "So what?" Here's what I take from it: that God is not surprised by anything. He knows what's coming; he knows what I'm going to bump into. He knows when I'll overcome, and when I'll goof up. And in spite of the ways I slip up, or willingly deviate from the path, I can say with David: "How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand." (Ps 139:17-18)

I love this psalm; it's so realistic. David seems happy that God is so near in verses 1-6, but then in 7-12 he wants to run away—yet knows he can't; he can neither run nor hide. And David is so honest about his thoughts in verses 19-22, asking God to slay the wicked and confessing his hatred toward them.

I want to finish here quoting David's words -- he began with "O Lord, you have searched me and known me" (Ps 139:1); he ends with "Search me O God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts... lead me in the way everlasting" (from Ps 139:23-24).

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