Some of David’s prayers scare me.
I read, pray and sing most Psalms authentically, but some of David’s prayers are too unsettling for me to honestly pray when I truly stop to consider his petitions to God.
I’m not here writing about the imprecatory Psalms where David prayed for God’s swift judgment on his enemies – though I wrestle with those in a different way. My thoughts here concern the prayers turned inward, namely the prayer uttered by David at the end of Psalm 139.
“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!” – Psalm 139:23-24.
Consider to whom David petitioned: The perfect, wise, holy and just God over creation, who dwells in unapproachable light, whose moral beauty and glory caused any who caught a glimpse of it or felt the weight of his glory to shriek in terror and fall down as dead before the holy. David invited that same God inside himself to seek for sin in the dark corners of his mind, shining his piercing light on things grievous within.
Why would anyone willingly pray that? Why would I pray that? Why would I ask the Holy One to search for the profane in me? There’s sin enough in my life that I know well enough. But David asks God to search for sin he isn’t even yet aware of. Why should I pray in line with David?
Because God is the only one who can do anything with it. And not only that, God already knows.
David began this Psalm with that declaration, “O Lord , you have searched me and known me!” He then detailed how God knit him – and every other human – together in the womb, writing out the days of their lives when before the sun ever rose on their first day.
David knew that God already understood all the thoughts, cares and intentions of his heart. He spent the first 22 verses explaining just that. God already knows humans more than we know ourselves. No, David’s petition was rather a posture of heart. He knew sin – conscious and unconscious – hindered his relationship with God. This was a petition for revelation. David asked God to reveal sin in his life in order that he could see and repent and grow closer to God.
In our natural state, I believe it’s human nature to hide our sins and flaws within and not confess them to others, much less to God himself.
I hear the phrase often that “when I’m alone I can truly be myself.” No one to perform in front of, no one watching, no one judging. I think this is what we see in the thoughts of French Existentialist Philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, whose works seemed to argue that the “look of the other” would cause us to conform and to lose our individuality and thus our humanity.
For Sartre, privacy of thought was key to our being human. Without some private room of the mind to enter where neither man nor God could peek into, man would become less. For David to invite that “Other” into his innermost mind would mean nothing more than asking for the firing squad of existence.
But I don’t think that’s the right way to view God or human beings. Humans are defined by relationship not attribute. Some have described humans as “beings-in-communion.”
Though separate from animals due to natural means of cognitive function, our ability to think and reason, and to be self-aware, what truly separates our species from the rest of creation is our special relationship with our Creator. Everything that exists was made by God. But to none other than man did God implant his divine image, and to none other than man did God call friend.
The result of sin, I think, is why we have this notion of the sacred and secular divide. The idea of transcendence – that there’s something more to life than the material – is shunned. In place is the “immanent frame” of existence. What you see is all there is. The natural state of humanity is now to abhor the very thought of an omnipresent being who knows our every thought and deed.
For the Christian, however, we understand that sin cut the cords of fellowship between God and man. We were created for communion, to be in relationship with God and one another. That is what it means to be human. And if that relationship is essential in what it means to be human, then to live without that restored relationship with God is to somehow forget our humanity.
So, for David to ask God to further remove that barrier of sin with him is akin to asking God to make David more human, not less.
Rather than believing God’s gaze into our lives makes us walking clichés, I think it does the opposite. If God created us for relationship, to know him and one another intimately, then for God to restore that relationship with us, tearing down that wall of separation, affirms each human’s uniqueness and displays God’s diverse creation in human existence.
As no two humans are the same, no two Christians are the same. Paul didn’t cease to be Paul, neither did Peter, James, or John, when God called them to himself and to preach and proclaim the gospel of Christ. Though they all preach the same message in their letters, their uniqueness wasn’t lost. It was nurtured and preserved.
David’s prayer in Psalm 139 is both intimidating and scary. It is also necessary. As transparency in my relationship with my wife, Jesse, cultivates marital trust and growth, so does adopting that transparency in my prayer life encourage and deepen my walk with God, who leads me in the way everlasting.
Joseph Hamrick is a semi-professional writer and sometimes thinker. He lives in Commerce and serves as a deacon at Commerce Community Church (C3). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org