My Soul Knows it Very Well: Psalm 139 [Part 3: Thorns Do Not Look Like Love, God]

This post is part of a two week mini-series I am calling "My Soul Knows it Very Well: Psalm 139"; the heart of this mini-series is to seek God's word about who he is, who he says I am, with the goal of having his word come alive in my heart, growing feet that walk out redemption in Christ as the Biblical truth I discover becomes riveted to my soul.

Today's piece of Psalm 139 caught me off guard. I keep looking to this passage to find the ooey-gooey, full of comfort like a down-filled blanket love of God. Certainly my God is one of steadfast love, but his love doesn't always look the way I want to define it.

Verse 5 reads:
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
I immediately thought of the Book of Hosea when I read this. If you don't know the story, basically God calls his prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute- an active, practicing prostitute named Gomer- to serve as an allegory to portray to Israel her unfaithfulness to him as her God. Just as Gomer ran back to her old lovers- lovers who abused and harmed her- and forsook the love of her caring, tender husband, so did Israel run out of the loving protection of obedience to God and into the arms of idols who left her broken again and again.

Image courtesy of tealtakespictures @ Flickr

In my head I imagine Gomer running out with her figurative fruits- her heart, her mind, her emotions, her talents and gifts, her abilities; all given to her by a God so in love with her that he'd eventually punish his own son on the cross for her sins- and just throwing them down in front of men who didn't just not love her but who likely despised her. No man sleeps with a prostitute because he respects her or wants to protect her. How truly tragic, then, that Gomer called those men lovers, as evidenced by God's references to them.

Image courtesy of tealtakespictures @ Flickr

Upon reading David's words about God hemming him in, I recalled Hosea 2:5-7, where God says that as Gomer chases after her lovers he will hedge her in so that she can't find them; once she can't escape, her heart turns and she gives in, deciding to go back to her husband (again, an allegory of Israel returning to God). I have always seen this in my head like a neat and tidy box hedge, of the European maze sort.

I picture Gomer standing in the middle of a nice little square of hedges with lovely rounded edges. I think, "What a sweet and gracious God! She has nowhere to turn, and though her heart is still sinning by desiring that which she cannot have, God is literally stopping her from doing more harmful damage. And if there's no way to keep running then there's nowhere else to look but up at him!" Then Gomer returns to her husband, a picture of Israel turning to God, and everyone lives happily ever after.

This sounds so lovely. But did you go read the Hosea verses I linked? If not, then please do now:

5 For their mother has played the whore;
she who conceived them has acted shamefully.
For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers,
who give me my bread and my water,
my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’
6 Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns,
and I will build a wall against her,
so that she cannot find her paths.
7 She shall pursue her lovers
but not overtake them,
and she shall seek them
but shall not find them.
Then she shall say,
‘I will go and return to my first husband,
for it was better for me then than now.’
Does anything stand out to you as not fitting into my sweet fairytale of soft, lush, green boxed hedges? God doesn't hedge Gomer in gently with trimmed hedges. He surrounds her with thorns. Thorns? That doesn't seem loving. Thorns illicit imagery of pain; if Gomer thrashed against her God-given walls of thorns then she'd have nothing to show but bloodied limbs and torn clothes. How is that loving, God? Wouldn't walls of soft green hedges have done the same trick?

Image courtesy of Doug1021 @ Flickr

When I think of thorns I cannot help but immediately envision the crown of them crushed into Jesus' skull, flooding his vision with his own blood gushing down his brow. I think of Christ likewise crushed for my iniquities, bloodied beyond human recognition and then forsaken and abandoned by his Father, willingly taking all of the punishment for my sins so that I will never have to. And then I realize that this is love- it's dark and painful, too horrible to bear, but it is the love of God. In fact, it's the clearest manifestation of God's love for me, because he wasn't just piercing his son. God was ripping his own heart out of his chest, if you will, and obliterating it. All of this so that he could have relationship with me and thus make his glory known to the world.

God loves me. It's not all rainbows and lusciously-eyelashed unicorns prancing about on fluffy marshmallow clouds while blowing bubbles with their pink gum. It's not always the fairy tale I would write were I the author. But you know what? I'm with David- praise God that he hems me in, that it's because he refuses to let me chase after those whose desire is my death and destruction in exchange for their temporary pleasure.

My idols- my lovers- have brought me nothing but pain and suffering, and the times when God has walled me in with thorns, though excruciating they were, have brought the sweetest surrender and trust that he is indeed a God of steadfast love. I no longer fear his hand of discipline being laid upon me; I actually pray and ask him for it offensively, before I even sin, that he'd be quick to discipline me when I do and remind me that a loving father doesn't willfully and permissively watch his beloved daughter kill herself.

Are you as glad as I am that we're only to verse 5? No more spiritual eye-rolling at Psalm 139 for it's overwrought "You should feel good about yourself because you're fearfully and wonderfully made" Christianity-as-culture usage. It's not the Bible's fault that people abuse it, so I refuse to treat it with contempt any longer. Praise God for Psalm 139; it is coming alive in me. I pray that, scant as my readers at this point appear to be, it's also coming alive for you as well.

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