Knowing ourselves

Psalm 139:23-24 “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!”

Have you ever noticed how many people are on a quest to “know who they are?”  So many people are searching to know themselves.  It seems they are on a never-ending inner search, thinking, apparently, that if they can understand themselves better, they can thereby make the best choices and do the best things for their own benefit.  The problem with all of this, however, is that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it (Jeremiah 17:9)?”  In other words, we are all afflicted by a terrible disease. It’s called sin. And one of its foremost symptoms is that our judgment is clouded by it to the point that we can think we are well when we are desperately sick – spiritually, that is.  Sadly, that spiritual sickness affects every other area of our lives.  As a result, in any quest to “find ourselves” by some human means, either by some effort we pursue on our own or with the help of a human therapist, our search will inevitably be futile and we may end up even more lost than when we began. 

Isn’t that strange?  If we should know anything in this world, it should be our own self, for that’s the person we spend the most time with. It’s the one we think about the most and the one we care about the most. Yet, as the Bible tells us plainly, “who can understand it?” i.e., who can understand his or her own heart?  So, what’s the antidote?  Is there one? 

It is to this question that the words of Psalm 139, above, speak. This psalm begins with the words “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”  Do you hear that?  It is God and God alone Who knows us in this way. His knowledge about each and every one of us is far greater than our own knowledge about ourselves. His knowledge about us is “high.”  It is so high that neither you nor I can attain unto it.  He knows us far, far better than we can ever hope to know ourselves, for while our hearts are deceitful and desperately sick, His heart is pure and His knowledge infinite. 

Interestingly, the psalmist goes on in Psalm 139 to describe his own condition of trying to hide from God, in spite of God’s infinite knowledge of him.  He talks about trying to hide in the darkness or in the uttermost parts of the sea.  But God is, of course, everywhere, and the darkness “is as bright as the day” to God.  The psalmist is in awe that God not only knows everything about him at this very moment, but that He knew him intimately even in the womb, when the psalmist himself wasn’t consciously aware of anything.  And then the psalmist peers into the future, the days to come, and acknowledges to God that “in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

God’s knowledge of us is, indeed, infinite, stretching from all eternity before we were born, and extending to the knowledge of the day of our death (and the eternity that awaits us beyond that).  As the psalmist meditates on these things he then says “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.” 

It is then, on the basis of these wonderful truths, that the psalmist lifts up his heart to this awesome, omniscient God and prays “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!”  In other words, the psalmist wisely concludes that although his own heart is deceitful and he will never, in his own strength, know himself, God knows his heart perfectly. He humbly asks God to search him and reveal to him the grievous and deceitful things that are lurking within him and he pleads with God to set him right and lead him in the ways of truth, the way that is everlasting. 

So, what about you and what about me?  Do we really want to know ourselves?  Do we want to hear the whole truth about ourselves, no matter how much that truth might hurt, or do we want to think wonderful things about how wonderful we are, or go to other people with no more and, in fact, even less knowledge of us who will soothe our conscience by telling us the very same “wonderful” things.  You see the Bible in another place warns us that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death (Proverbs 14:12).” 

May God help us to have the wisdom to turn from such ways, and rather seek Him with all our heart, for when we do this, we seek the way that is right to a man. It’s the one and only way that leads to life.

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