by Catherine Miller
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns.
See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.”
Psalm 139: 23-24 CSB
As we heard in Chris Recinella’s sermon this past Sunday, honesty is required for Christian community. We must be honest, in love, when correcting sin in the church, and honest with ourselves when it is we who must be corrected. If we do not practice confession and correction in our community, eventually “we have this pent-up need to deal with our hurt and that becomes anger…and it comes out, someway, sometime,” says Chris.
Our word for the online art gallery this month is honesty, and we’ve paired it with Psalm 139. In the Psalms, we encounter a psalmist who is gut-wrenchingly honest about his emotions. And he stands, “naked like a baby and unashamed as the beloved of God” (Open and Unafraid: The Psalms As a Guide to Life by W. David O. Taylor, p. 4). Psalm 139 speaks of the all-knowing, ever-present God who created us, fully knowing who we are and who we would become, down to the number of hairs on our head. “For it was you who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps. 139:13). The Psalmist stands, naked, honest with his emotions about his enemies: “God, if only you would kill the wicked–you bloodthirsty men, stay away from me–who invoke you deceitfully (Ps. 139:19).” He knows intimately that God created him: “For it was you who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13).” And wherever he goes, he cannot escape the ever-present God (Ps. 139:7-12). The Psalmist invites God to search his heart, to know him intimately (Ps. 139:1-6, 23-24).
We can be this honest with God. We can tell God about our innermost pain and rejections. We can tell him our laments and frustrations. He can take our immature emotions and form it when we have the courage to be honest with Him about how we really feel. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that we must be this honest with God— because it is only in confession to God about what is really going on in our hearts that we can seek to become whole and open our spirits to be corrected by the gentle, loving Shepherd who desires to know us and love us.
But it is not always easy to be honest with ourselves or with God. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we are born with the temptation to hide from the truth of our sin: to hide from the truth of what we have done and how we feel. “When we hide from ourselves, we become strangers to ourselves through selfish, self-indulgent behavior that ultimately does violence to our nature as humans who are made in God’s image” (Taylor, p. 3). Taylor continues: “What the psalms offer us is a powerful aid to un-hide: to stand honestly before God without fear, to face one another vulnerably without shame, and to encounter life in the world without any of the secrets that would demean and distort our humanity” (Taylor, p.3).
In the words of Eugene Peterson:
It is easy to be honest before God with our hallelujahs; it is somewhat more difficult to be honest in our hurts; it is nearly impossible to be honest before God in the dark emotions of our hate. So we commonly suppress our negative emotions (unless, neurotically, we advertise them). Or, when we do express them, we do it far from the presence, or what we think is the presence of God, ashamed or embarrassed to be seen in these curse-stained bib overalls. But when we pray the psalms, these classic prayers of God’s people, we find that will not do. We must pray who we actually are, not who we think we should be.
Psalm 139 is an acknowledgement that God is all-knowing and ever-present, but we also see how purposefully and intentionally God made us:
For it was you who created my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will praise you because I have been remarkably and wondrously made.
Your works are wondrous, and I know this very well.
My bones were not hidden from you when I was made in secret,
when I was formed in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me when I was formless;
all my days were written in your book and
planned before a single one of them began. (Ps. 139:14-16 CSB)
In this way, I think we are asking this month: God, who am I really? What about me needs to change? Where are my weaknesses? Will you enter into them? Is my identity rooted firmly in your picture of me? Or are there idols in my life you wish to reveal to me?
As I praise you, great God, help me to be both personal and honest. I do not want to parrot generalities I have heard from others, but to witness to your saving help in my life, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
—Eugene Peterson, Praying the Psalms
Stock photo by Caleb Woods courtesy of Unsplash