Good Theology Back to all sermons

Date: August 26, 2011

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Category: Friday

Scripture: Psalm 139:1–139:24

 What kind of a theologian are you?

You might respond to that question by saying, “I am not a theologian at all. I am a teacher, or businessman, or engineer or doctor.”

Well, yes, but you are also a theologian. Every human being is a theologian and every human being has a theology. Everyone believes something about God. Even the person who denies the existence of God has a theology. He believes there is no God. I would also argue that your theology has profound implications in every area of your life.

In his book, Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer makes this statement: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

He goes on to say, “The most important fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.”

That concept of God that we have deep in our hearts is our theology. We are all theologians. And if A. W. Tozer is correct, our theology is the “most important thing about us.” So when I ask, “What kind of theologian are you?” I am not simply asking an academic question but one which touches the very deepest issues of life, thought, emotions and behavior.

So, what kind of a theologian are you? Is your theology, your concept of God, accurate or inaccurate? Where did you get your concept of God? How was it formed? How did your theology influence you this week; your thoughts, your emotions, your words, your actions?

In Psalm 139, David is “doing theology.” He is thinking about God and reflecting on God’s attributes. He focuses on some of the realities of God’s existence. But for David, this is no abstract or academic exercise. It is very personal. He is taking great truths about God and he is allowing them to seep into the corners of his life and emotions and shape his feelings, words and actions. Let us follow him on that journey, and allow these great truths about God shape us as well.

Psalm 139 is a very personal psalm. It is filled with personal pronouns. God is addressed repeatedly: “You…” Almost all the other pronouns are first person singular. “Me, I, my…” This is David, up close and personal with God. As such it is a very intimate psalm. I almost feel like I am eavesdropping on a personal conversation.

The first great theological truth David takes up is that of the omniscience of God; the reality that God knows everything. This is good theology. But David does not simply lay it out as an abstract proposition. For David, this truth has very personal implications. Listen as he allows the truth of God’s omniscience soak into his soul:

1 O Lord, you have searched me 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 know it completely, O Lord.
5 You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Good theology is personal theology. In these verses David takes the reality of God’s omniscience and makes it very personal. Because God knows everything, he knows everything about me. Think about that for a moment. God knows everything about you. When you sit down. When you get up. He knows what you think before you think it. He knows what your words will be before they are even shaped on your tongue. He knows where you go and with whom and he knows why you go there. He is familiar with all your ways.

David finds this reality to be absolutely comprehensive in scope, like being surrounded by God. God everywhere; in front of him, behind him, like a hedge around him. It is as though God has placed his hand over him, cupping him in his protective embrace. This reality is more than he can fully take in.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

God knows everything and because God knows everything, he knows everything about me and about you. Tell me, do you find that comforting or frightening? David obviously found it comforting. It was beyond comprehension, but “wonderful” to think and meditate on the reality that God knew everything about him. Here is a question for you to take home and think about. If you find this thought frightening, what does that reveal about you?

The next great theological truth that David takes up in the next stanza of this psalm is the truth that God is omnipresent; that God is everywhere. But once again, it is not the propositional and the abstract truth, but the personal implications of the truth that fill David’s thoughts.

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.

Do you see how David has once again taken the abstract and the propositional and made it personal. The doctrine of God’s omnipresence declares that God is everywhere. David makes it personal. Because God is everywhere, there is nowhere I can go where God is not.

I realize that is awkwardly worded. It is a double negative. But I have worded it that way because that is kind of how David lays it out. David approaches the matter by asking a question or posing a kind of theological riddle. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? Even if I wanted to escape the presence of God, where would I go to do that? He then travels in his mind’s eye to the extremes of both the spiritual world and the physical world. He goes up to heaven. Of course God is there. But then he plunges into the abyss, the opposite extreme, Sheol. And God is there too.

He explores the dimensions of the natural world. He rises on the wings of the dawn in the east and flies to the far side of the sea. From the perspective of Israel, the great sea, the Mediterranean lay to the west and the setting of the sun. If he settled beyond the sea, even there God’s hand would guide and hold him fast.

He even explores the dimensions of day and night, of light and darkness. Even the darkest night is light to God. God is everywhere. Because God is everywhere, there is nowhere I can go where God is not. Or, if you are still troubled by the double negative, we can render it positively: Because God is everywhere, everywhere I go, there is God.

Let me apply this for a moment to those of you who are new to Abu Dhabi. You have just arrived in this rather strange place that almost seems like the end of the world. Maybe, like me, when you first contemplated moving to Abu Dhabi, you had to go and look for it on a map. When we were getting ready to come to Abu Dhabi, many years ago, there was an episode in the Garfield cartoon strip. Garfield was trying to get rid of his nemesis, Odie, the dog. He decided to put him in a box and mail him someplace far, far away. Guess where he addressed the box? That’s right! To Abu Dhabi!

And now, here you are and you may be feeling very much alone. Think on this truth. God is everywhere. Because God is everywhere, everywhere you go, there is God. God is here. You may have settled on “the far side of the sea” from all that is safe and familiar. But God is here. His hand will guide you and hold you fast even here. That is the personal reality and implication of the doctrine of the omnipresence of God. Take time to soak it in.

The next stanza of the psalm runs from verses 13-16. In this section, David takes up the doctrine of God as the Creator. Listen to how David applies the implications of this great Biblical doctrine.

13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

The Bible tells us that God made everything. That is the general, propositional truth. David makes it personal. Because God made everything, God made me. I love the personal and intimate imagery that David uses; God, knitting and weaving and forming the embryo in the womb. And not just any embryo; the embryo that became me! God made me! As David reflects on that he bursts into praise.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. The human body is an incredible piece of design and engineering. And no two of us are exactly alike. Each human being is an original work of art by the Master Artist!

David then takes this thought of God as Creator and ponders another implication. Because God made me, he is sovereign over my life and has preordained its length. I don’t know how long I am going to live. I know I am well past the mid-point of my life, but I do not know how many years I have left. But God does! The length of my life was fixed before I was ever born. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. God is sovereign over my life. Jesus reflected on this truth when he asked the rhetorical question: Which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? The length of our life is not something you and I control. It is in God’s hands. As the one who created us, he holds the same sovereignty over us that the potter has over the clay, to use another Biblical image. I don’t know about you, but I take great comfort in that reality. I would not want it any other way.

The next two verse of the psalm a little more difficult to unravel.

17How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.

The first thing we need to understand about verse 17 is that this is not talking about my thoughts about God.  These are God’s thoughts about David, about you and about me. The grammatical form implies this. So do the words themselves. My thoughts about God are not so vast in sum, nor do they outnumber the grains of sand. The second key is to understand that the word “thoughts” carries with it the idea of purposes, plans or aims. Psalm 40:5 carries the same idea:

Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.

Here we find a remarkable truth. The general truth is this. God is sovereign and is working everything according to his plan. Now here is the personal part. I am part of his plan. God has a plan and purpose for me! Even when I am asleep, God is still carrying out his purposes. I don’t have to stay awake, because God does. You and I are in his plan. And if we are part of God’s covenant family, the family of faith, then it is a good plan; a plan that will be for our good and God’s glory. It is a plan that is infinite in scope and complexity; vast and uncountable are the purposes of God. David falls asleep contemplating them and he awakes with a deep sense of security that he is safe in the presence and the purposes of God. Once again, David is going from the general, propositional truth of God’s sovereignty to the personal implications of his own security in God.

I must admit, I was strongly tempted to skip over the next few verses. They seem to be a jarring departure from the themes of the rest of the psalm.

19 If only you would slay the wicked, O God! Away from me, you bloodthirsty men!
20 They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord, and abhor those who rise up against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.

What is this section doing in this psalm? As I thought about it, I realized that David is doing the same thing in this section that he has done in the other sections. He has taken a general truth about God and allowed it to become personal. What is the theological truth that underlies this stanza? It is the truth that God is holy and hates sin. What is the personal application? Because God hates sin, so should I.

I believe the key to understanding this perspective is to see sin as God sees it and as the Scripture portrays it – as rebellion against God and his rule. David is simply declaring his loyalty to God and his kingdom and his values and stating: “God, your enemies are my enemies! You are the king of the universe, the Creator of all things. You have the right to rule and you will rule. I declare myself an enemy to all are defying you and opposing your rule.”

I read somewhere that one of the disturbing symptoms of modern society is that we have lost the capacity for outrage. Sadly, I believe this can also be said of the church. In the name of tolerance, we have lost the capacity for outrage. Nothing shocks us, whether outside the church or in it. We are even uncomfortable with David’s language in these verses. Calm down, David! You’ll offend someone! If we knew God as David knew him, would we not also find ourselves outraged by those who hate God and misuse his name and rise up against his rule? I think it is something to think about as we allow our theology of the holiness of God to permeate our attitudes and actions.

Let me bring us back to where we began this message. What kind of theologian are you? What kind of a theology do you have? As you ponder that question, I would strongly assert that good theology is personal. A good theologian is not the person who can pass examinations and write a correct doctrinal statement. A good theologian is one who has allowed the great truths of God’s existence and character soak into his heart and mind and shape his emotions, attitudes and actions. That is what David has done in Psalm 139.

Because God knows everything, he knows everything about me.

Because God is everywhere, God is with me everywhere I go.

Because God made everything, God made me, and he is sovereign over my life and my life-span.

Because God is sovereign and is working everything according to his plan, God has a plan for me.

Because God is holy and hates sin, so should I.

After meditating on these great truths of God’s existence and character, David concludes with a prayer in which he submits himself to God. It is a good place for us to conclude as well.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

This prayer truly impresses me. It is a remarkably humble and self-aware prayer. He has just concluded railing against sin and sinners in the previous section. But he is self-aware enough to understand his own susceptibility to sin. “If there is any offensive way in me, Lord, search it out and show it to me,” he prays.

He has made statements that reflected great confidence in God. Yet he admits to “anxious thoughts”.

But above all it is a prayer of quiet trust and submission. He places himself on God’s examining table, and says simply: “God, show me what you see and then show me what to do about it.”

Are we willing to do the same?

QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION

  1. Pastor Cam introduced this message with the following quote from A.W. Tozer’s book Knowledge of the Holy: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…The most important fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.” Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  2. “Good theology is personal.” In this Psalm, David reflects on several different attributes of God and how they relate to him personally. Take time to trace David’s thoughts and then add your own:

Theological Truth:God is omniscient. (He knows everything)
David’s application: (verses 1-6) – summarize David’s thoughts in your own words.
Personal application to your present situation...

Theological Truth:God is omnipresent.(He is present everywhere.)
David’s application: (verses 7-12) – summarize David’s thoughts in your own words.
Personal application to your present situation...

Theological Truth:God made everything.
David’s application:(verses 13-16) – summarize David’s thoughts in your own words.
Personal application to your present situation......

Theological Truth:God is sovereign.
David’s application: (verses 17-18) – summarize David’s thoughts in your own words.
Personal application to your present situation...

Theological Truth:God is holy
David’s application:(verses 19-22) – summarize David’s thoughts in your own words.
Personal application to your present situation...

3. In verses 23-24, David closes with a prayer. Do you find this prayer easy or difficult to pray? Why?