God’s Inescapable Intimacy
This is the first sermon in our current series, “Do You See What I See?”
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Socrates said, “Know thyself.” I think it’s so important to know yourself, but I also believe on some level that people want to be known by others. They want to know that someone sees and hears them. When we started Back2Back ministries in 1996 we spent a lot of time working with kids in downtown Cincinnati. One of the most vivid memories I have is sitting in Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and talking with kids in the Over the Rhine community. They all wanted to tell their story…they showed a need to be known.
Psalm 139:1-12 says, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”
It’s one thing, as Socrates says, to know thyself, but it’s quite another thing to have thyself known. It’s so important on one level and so terrifying on another. I was reading an article and I came across a man who started a website for people to post secrets. The idea is very creative. You can write a secret that you have never told anyone else on a postcard and mail it to him. It’s anonymous, and they’re posted on his website. He has turned this experiment into a career. The website has 237,000 likes on Facebook. He’s written five books about the project. People call him “America’s most trusted stranger.” Here are a few of the posts from this week:
“My mood stabilizers were so strong I had to fake tears at my own mother’s funeral”
“I give decaf coffee to customers who are mean to me”
“Without warning, my children told me that they would understand if I left their mother.”
I think this website is so popular because it addresses an unmet need that people have to be heard and to be honest with themselves and the world. It seems to provide a non-threatening and non-judgmental place for people to reveal some of the deepest and most difficult aspects of who they are. A place for people to bring into the open what they’ve kept hidden. In other words, to be known.
As you read Psalm 139 it seems that David wants to be known, but at the same time he’s overwhelmed with the reality of true, pure, all-encompassing intimacy. In his prayer he reflects on an omniscient, omnipotent God who is intimately familiar with every area of his life. His God knows him even better than he knows himself. Even before we speak, before we know what we’re going to say, God knows our words. I think most people struggle with knowing themselves. Either because they don’t seem to have the discipline of self-reflection, or because they just don’t want to see who they really are inside. Whichever it is, the Bible says that our God knows us fully.
Psalm 139:1-6 says God knows everything about us. He knows all of our actions before we execute them, He knows our words before we say them, He knows our thoughts before we think them. He surrounds us at all times. He always has His hand upon us. No one can escape from His penetrating knowledge. David says in v. 6 “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” Most of the time the closest that two people can get to truly knowing each other is in a marriage relationship. But even the closest human relationship falls short of total knowledge. People don’t even know themselves fully, let alone someone else.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” We can’t know our own motives and inner drives apart from God’s revealing it to us in His Word. God alone knows us thoroughly. He sees through us.
So, David’s thought was “Where can I flee from your presence?” (v. 7).
David may be asking the question in a prayer, but for most of us, as much as we long for that type of intimacy, we also try to run from it. Total intimacy is threatening to people.
Before the fall, Adam and Eve had total intimacy with God and with one another. Gen. 2:25 says, “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” But as soon as they sinned, they tried to hide from God. It’s the human condition. On the one hand we long to know and be known, but on the other hand we set up walls. We fear being totally exposed. But the amazing thing is, this God who knows us so thoroughly, who knows every awful thought we’ve ever had, desires to have a relationship with us. Because of our sin and God’s holiness, something had to be done to remove that barrier to our relationship with Him.
God does something with Adam and Eve to remedy the situation that is a foreshadowing of His ultimate plan. God kills an animal and uses the skin to clothe them. He’s showing them that they could not be restored to fellowship with a Holy God without the shedding of blood. The Bible doesn’t say what kind of animal it was, but I think it was a lamb; a foreshadowing of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who would take away the sin of the world. It showed them the cost of sin, but also the grace and plan of God to provide a substitute so that sin would not have the last word. The intimacy of God moves David to write, “Where can I go to hide?” It helps us realize that we cannot escape God’s presence. God is everywhere and His presence is personal.
Verse 10 says, “even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” When we are living a holy life that connection is peaceful and comforting, but that kind of personal connection can be very unnerving when we are living outside of God’s will.
Let me try to illustrate with one of our closest human connections. I read the story of a student who went off to college and decided he would major in chasing the ladies. One of his many girlfriends said that she would call him that night. When his cell phone rang, he picked it up and in a soft, low, sexy voice, he said, “Talk to me, baby ….” Then he quickly turned red, changed his tone, and said, “Oh, hi, Mom”. His mother’s presence, even over the phone, had the power to change his behavior. If we sense the presence of God in our lives it similarly keeps us focused on Christ and a desire for holiness. There’s a power in the presence of God! When we know we are being observed it transforms our behavior.
Did you know that cameras are installed almost everywhere today, due to increasing security concerns, with the price of equipment falling dramatically over the last several years. As a result, the average person is recorded by dozens of cameras every day. Here is an example of a typical day, with a running total, and the number of cameras likely present at each stop:
- By 8:00AM: 4 cameras – Get a cup of coffee – 4 cameras in Starbucks, or Dunkin Donuts
- By 8:30AM: 24 cameras – School or office – cameras in parking lot and interior, you will be picked up at various angles by 20 cameras at least.
- By 12:15PM: 30 cameras – Stop at ATM before lunch for cash. Bank will have exterior cameras, ATM will have close-up camera
- By 12:30PM: 38 cameras – Go get lunch – 4 cameras at lunch spot, plus 4 more easily surrounding businesses
- By 5:00PM: 45 cameras – Leave work, go to gym to work out. Camera at check-in desk, plus in 6-8 in workout area
- By 5:45PM: 46 cameras – Stop to pick up dry cleaning. Camera at front register
- By 6:00PM: 52 cameras – Stop for gas. Cameras at pumps and in the store
- By 6:15PM: 54 cameras – Quick car wash. Cameras at entry and in-bay
- By 7:00PM: 58 cameras – Pick up kids from practice/game. Cameras in school parking lot or on building exterior
We have not even included city traffic cameras, and in urban areas, you will easily be picked up at most prominent intersections and often walking down the street. The above was from an article in 2016 by Brian Karas.
I often wonder what would happen if we lived with a camera on us 24/7. If we could get a small glimpse of what God sees…our facial expressions, our behavior toward others, our private moments. What if each night we had to watch the replay of our day? I think it would revolutionize our lives, our marriages, our business dealings, our interaction with our children, and our personal time.
David is saying that you can’t escape from God. He knows everything about you. He’s with you wherever you go. He created you and ordained the days of your life.
We often ask God, “Do you see what I see?” and His answer is a yes. He sees your pain, He sees your confusion, He knows your story. He also knows your weaknesses, your sins, your motives, and your additions. You are fully, intimately known. And with everything He knows about you, the good, the bad and the ugly, He loved you so much that He sent His son to die for you.
The thought of being separated from you prompted the greatest expression of sacrificial love the world has ever seen. The question we really need to ask this morning is, “Do you recognize His love and your need of His Grace?” I hope that you will meditate on that question right now. It has eternal consequences.