A Song of the Greatness of God

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Psalm 139:1-24

“God is great, and God is good . . .” That brief phrase says just about all we need to know about God. But what exactly does it mean to say “God is great”?

When I was a little boy, I was taught to pray before meals. As our family would gather at the dinner table, we would acknowledge our dependence upon God and our gratitude for his daily care by giving thanks for the food he had provided. My father would lead us all in prayer, and then, when he had finished, I would add my child’s thanks in these words:

God is great,

God is good;

Let us thank him for this food.

It’s been many years since I have used that prayer at the dinner table. For a long time I have been the father leading our family worship, and now even my children are largely grown up. But I still think that little childhood prayer says something very profound and important about God. He is both great, and good. If we can hold on to those twin truths without giving up either one or the other, we’ll know everything important there is to know about God.

The Psalms are full of praise for both the goodness and the greatness of the one true God. I’d like to focus here on the latter of those two qualities of God. So let’s consider together the greatness of God, as that is described in the 139th Psalm.

We live in a self-centered age. We humans are preoccupied with ourselves, and as a result we have pushed God to the fringes of life. What most distinguishes the Bible from our culture is its God-centeredness, a trait that comes through with particular clarity in Psalm 139. While so many today are feverishly trying to bring God down to their level, the psalmist here lifts us up to God’s level. The simple explanation behind this psalm’s power is that it focuses on God; he is the main Subject. What Psalm 139 specifically describes in beautiful and moving language is God’s surpassing greatness, his “Godness” – if I can put it that way, that is, all the things about him that make him God. The psalm focuses upon the characteristics that define his greatness, especially God’s perfect knowledge of all things and his presence everywhere at all times. What we learn here is that God is the all-knowing, ever-present, almighty Creator and Lord.

GOD’S PERFECT KNOWLEDGE

Let’s start with the fact that God is all-knowing. God’s knowledge is wonderful, declares the psalmist (v. 6). It is too high for us, beyond our ability to comprehend. Think about how much God knows. God’s knowledge extends to everything and everyone. Whatever there is to know, he knows it. One of the most dramatic changes of our time is the knowledge explosion. I read somewhere that in the last thirty years the total store of human knowledge has doubled. That means that we have gained as much new knowledge since the 1960s as the entire human race had discovered from the beginning of time until then. That’s amazing, staggering! The sheer amount of human knowledge is difficult for us to comprehend. At about the time Harvard University was founded in the late 17th century, it was said that a good scholar in his lifetime could read every book that had ever been written. Now it would take many lifetimes just to read the books published in one year. Yet God knows and comprehends all this perfectly. God understands every secret of the universe. He knows every fact in every computer in the world, and in every other world as well – if there are any! No wonder the psalmist exclaims,

Your thoughts are far beyond my understanding, much more than I could ever imagine.
I try to count your thoughts, but they outnumber the grains of sand on the beach.

(vv. 17-18a, cev)

When he talks about how much God knows, the psalmist isn’t just speaking of abstract or theoretical knowledge. He especially means God’s personal knowledge. God doesn’t just know facts and figures. He knows us; he knows you and me. He knows when I sit down and rise up, when I go and when I come, says the psalmist (vv. 2-4). God is aware of all our actions and movements, everything we’re doing and everywhere we’re going, whether sleeping or waking, working or playing, every moment of our lives. Think of the incredible detail of God’s knowledge! How many times did you sit down yesterday? You can’t remember, of course, because that’s too small a thing. But God remembers it. There is nothing too small to escape his eye. Jesus said that even the hairs on your head are numbered (Matthew 10:30).

God also knows all our words and thoughts. He hears everything that comes out of our mouth, as well as all that goes on inside our head. We can often hide our thoughts or feelings from others, but God sees them all. “Before I even speak a word, you know what I will say” (v. 4). Finally, adds the psalmist, God knows all our ways – our whole life, from beginning to end, from before we were born when he created us in our mother’s body, till after we die. Psalm 139 tells us that God has numbered our days. Every single thing that has happened or will happen to us is part of God’s infinite store of knowledge.

GOD’S UNIVERSAL PRESENCE

The psalmist next turns his attention to the presence of God throughout the universe. God is not only all-knowing, he is ever-present. He is everywhere, all the time. This means that wherever we are we always live in the presence of God. There is nowhere where that is not true. The psalm says that God surrounds us on all sides (v. 5). Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t escape from him. Verses 7-12 talk about trying to do just that. The writer uses the language of contrast: up to heaven and down to the depths of the underworld; east on “the wings of the dawn,” west to “the far side of the sea” – it makes no difference. Wherever he goes or imagines going, from the highest heights to the lowest depths, the psalmist knows God will be there. Day or night (vv. 11-12), heaven or earth make no difference to him.

This man was impressed with the size of the world – earth and sea, sky and depths. The world is a very big place, but God is even bigger. God fills every part of his creation. This is a great thought: wherever we go in the universe, God has been there ahead of us and remains there with us. It’s even greater for us than for the psalmist because modern science has shown us just how vast the universe is. For us, “the uttermost parts of sea” now are in the sea of galaxies in outer space, where distances are measured not in miles but in light years. Yet even there God is. What a great God he is! Yuri Gagarin, the first man to orbit the earth, scoffed, “I didn’t see God in outer space.” No, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t there. As a good Marxist, Gagarin had been taught to deny the reality of God. If you are spiritually blind you won’t see him on earth either! Contrast to that the testimony of the American astronaut James Irwin, who after walking on the moon testified, “I found God on the moon. The sense of his presence there almost overwhelmed me.”

Again, God’s presence, like his knowledge, is personal. It’s not just that God is everywhere, but that he is everywhere with us – no matter where we are, wherever we may go, “even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (v.10).

“I PRAISE YOU”

How do you react to all this talk about the greatness of God? What do you think when you hear about God’s power and knowledge and presence? Some people simply don’t believe it. “Outmoded theological concepts,” they sniff. “Quaint, pre-modern mythology. There is no such thing as an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful Sovereign Deity, no Father up in the sky. If there is a god, he (or she, or it) is just a force, a principle. Twenty-first-century men and women can no longer believe in such nonsense.”

I disagree. I think that if God exists – and I’m sure he does – then this is what he must be like. He must be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, ever-present. Why would anyone believe in a God who is something less than this? What’s the good of an impersonal divine force, who can’t know me or care about me? Why bother putting your trust in a “god-lite,” whose power and knowledge are so limited he can’t do anything to help me when I need him?

Maybe you do realize that this is who God is. You have some understanding of his awesome greatness, but it frightens you. I can understand that reaction. I sometimes feel that way myself. I realize that God does know everything about me, all my thoughts and words and actions – and many of these are things I’m ashamed of. I’d rather no one knew about them. I also know that I can never escape from God, here or anywhere in time or eternity, and I sometimes worry about how I will answer him when I must stand before him to give an account of my life.

But you and I don’t have to be afraid of God. God’s greatness is actually a marvelous thing. It’s a wonderful thought, full of comfort to reflect upon. Because God does know everything, it means that nothing is forgotten, or lost or wasted. Everything done in secret, all the hidden things, said Jesus, will one day be revealed and made known – not only the hidden and secret sins, which will be judged, but the hidden and secret deeds of love and faithfulness, which will be rewarded!

Because God rules everywhere, no accident can harm us without our Father’s protection and care. His heavenly love and strength surround us always. Because God is personally present, it means he doesn’t just know and care about nature or the world; he knows you, he knows me. He isn’t just present in the mountains or the forest or in the stars; he’s present in our lives. He didn’t make only the heavens and the earth; he made us. “You are the one,” cries the psalmist, “who put me together inside my mother’s body, and I praise you because of the wonderful way you created me. Everything you do is marvelous! Of this I have no doubt” (vv. 13-14). And because God created each one of us individually and personally, that means you and I can know him personally, despite the infinite difference and distance between us.

So what should you do in the presence of such a God? You don’t have to be afraid of him. In Christ we know the infinitely great God of the universe as our loving, heavenly Father. And such knowledge leads us to humble love and trust.

Pray the prayer with which Psalm 139 closes:

God, see what is in my heart.

Know what is there.

Put me to the test.

Know what I am thinking.

See if there’s anything in my life you don’t like.

Help me live in the way that is always right.

(vv. 23-24)