The Sistine Chapel ceiling was painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512 at the commission of Pope Julius II. Michelangelo, who was not primarily a painter but a sculptor, was reluctant to take on the work. The Pope however was adamant and Michelangelo had no choice but to accept. The work is now considered a masterpiece. God is depicted as a strong man with a flowing beard, or as Joe Bell joked, Father Christmas on steroids. Of course this representation of God is just an artist’s impression, nevertheless, it is good to ask ourselves: do we have a correct view of God?
Psalm 139 is one of the places in the Bible that gives us a true description and view of God.
God is all-knowing (v1-6)
Theologians use the word omniscient (omni=all). King David says, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me.” (v1) David realised that God is not a small tribal deity but the great all-knowing God. God knows David’s thoughts, circumstances and motives. He knows David’s joys and victories as well as David’s sins and failures. Does the omniscience of God scare David? No, he says, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me.” (v6) You may be in a dire predicament, a grim situation or face dismal circumstances. It may be relational, economical or you may be seemingly losing the battle against sin. Jesus said that God has numbered the hairs on our head. (Luke 12:4-7) The great comfort for God’s people is that God knows.
God is all-present (v7-12)
Theologians use the word omnipresent. God is not restricted to some geographical (ask Jonah) or economic or ethnic or political boundary. David said, “Where shall I flee from your presence?” (v7). God does not live in a temple or building. The entire universe cannot contain God. No-one can hide or escape from God. David reminds himself, “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” (v11-12) You may be far from home or in a secluded retirement village. You may be in Taiwan or Tulbagh. You may be young or old. You may be on your death-bed or starting your studies. God is there. The great comfort for God’s people is that God is with us.
God is all-powerful (v13-18)
The theologians use the word omnipotent. King David, observing his own intricate and complex body, says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (v13-14). David did not know about embryology, but he comprehended the power of God at work in the creation of the human body. Not only in the creation of himself did David observe God’s power, but also in his entire life. “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (v16) God is not only creator, but he is the providential ruler over all his creation. You are in the situation and circumstances in which you find yourself because this is the best situation for you at the moment. If there was a better situation for you that would be more for your good, you would not be where you are now. (Romans 8:28). The great comfort for God’s people is that God is all-powerful.
God is all-holy (v19-24)
Theologians refer to the righteousness or justice of God. David cries out for justice in these verses. He wants evil people judged. He calls for God to slay the wicked. David knew that God is all holy. The Bible teaches us that because God is holy he must punish all sin and evil. God will slay the wicked. The problem is that we are all sinners and our thoughts if not our actions are wicked. We stand guilty before a righteous God. Here again we appreciate afresh the tremendous truth of the gospel. God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus Christ died in our place for our sins to bring us to an all holy God. The holiness of God is a great comfort to Christians and should also be a great forewarning to non-Christians.
The Old Man upstairs
David’s response as a believer to the holiness of God is not despair or paralysing fear, but a deep commitment to holiness himself. He prays, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (v23-24) May this be our prayer too as we remember that if our problem is too big, our God is too small. God is not the “old man” up in heaven with a long beard; he is the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, holy God.
* This post is my adaptation of Bishop Joe Bell’s sermon entitled, “If your problem is too big, your God is too small!”