Your ‘Self’ Doesn’t Belong to Yourself
by Isaac Banegas
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughtsc
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting
Psalm 139: 23-24
If you ask an aficionado about his passion, buckle up. He will tell you with love and conviction about how to grill the best steak, what truck has the best towing performance, where the best coffee beans are grown and roasted, or why soccer is the most beautiful game. She will persist in her impassioned rehearsal of God’s gift to humanity until you tell her you need to freshen your drink or begin your own litany of praise for whatever your own delight is. Many of the psalms offer that same type of conversational space.
Psalm 139 delights in the work of God albeit through the prism of the self. It uses data points of creation and redemption to describe the virtuosity with which God has made man to delight in God alone. The assumption of the imagery is that creation and man is the theater of God’s glory—or in everyday language: “You’ll find yourself only when you find your ‘self’ doesn’t belong to yourself.” (We find ourselves insofar as we are found in Christ). The psalm invites the reader to consider God’s love in crafting and the love for His handiwork. It’s in seeing God as the psalm depicts that the self is rightly understood.
The psalm enacts a Jonah-type journey of the praying David. Beginning with the confession that, “God has searched me and knows me,” the psalm is pleased to consider the implications of God’s acquaintance with man, “You know when I sit and when I rise…You search my path and my lying down.” Yet it’s in finding how much God is acquainted with man that David sets to flight. David runs through the theoretical end of how a fleeing from God will eventually be brought to its end. “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea…” David plays the hypothetical, employing the help of a demi-god to reach the edge of creation—the edge of the known. Yet it’s in going rogue that David learns that it is God’s hand leading! “Even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.”
The intimate and human mode of describing God leading by the hand is key to understanding how God is choosing to reveal Himself in these verses. No matter how deep or far one goes, God’s presence is profoundly simple in its ability to just stand next to you wherever you are. It takes you by the hand. It covers you with a hand. We know this to be true insofar as we confess Jesus to be the actual presence of God. He understood men’s thoughts from afar because He knew what was in the heart of man. He descended to incarnate—descended into Sheol. “Darkness is light to Him” because He is the Light of life.
Therefore, this psalm must first be true of Jesus before it is ever true of us. We find ourselves only when we find our ‘self’ doesn’t belong to ourself. We belong to Jesus by virtue of Him belonging to our state of flesh. In His temptation, He was brought to the edge of the known kingdom and offered rule of it in rebellion to His Father. His prayer in that moment very well could have been, “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.” His blamelessness in that prayer led Him in the way everlasting. But because of our rebellion to find ourselves in ourselves, God charted the way everlasting through our neighborhood. Sin caused Jesus’ road to the everlasting to pass through Sheol. The Father’s gracious chase of us rebels required that the Son prove Himself—as the man—obedient unto death. And He did. That hard news for Jesus is the best news for us.
Now, friends, we pray/sing this psalm in freedom. We invite God to search us because we are so enmeshed in the person of Jesus and He is so enmeshed in us that we must ask God to search us to find that He will find Jesus there. This psalm is the presence of Jesus to us—in that He prayed these verses before we ever could—and makes it now a prayer/song of praise to God’s handiwork in creation, man, and redemption. It’s now a House of Eternal Return of sorts.
There is a community space/art installation in New Mexico that has taken a warehouse and put a home in it. This home is surrounded and interspersed with different spaces and artscapes— a beautifully crafted labyrinth of sights, sounds, and smells. The fun and wonder of it all is that every space, sight, sound, and smell perpetually reminds you that it is all contained inside a home. Whatever space you enter and however imaginative and big or small they and objects might be; you are ever at home. It’s in the act of exploration that you come to find that you only eternally return insofar as you are eternally held. God is an aficionado of creation, man, and redemption and He is rehearsing His passion to us in His Word. This is His conversation to us. Lean in and listen. Because:
In the prayer/praise of this psalm, in the presence God, we are being held by the hand of Jesus and are ever at home.