Psalm 139 is widely known for its verses that tell of God’s intimate knowledge of our very being. Verses like, “…you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. For I am fearfully and wonderfully made, (v.13)” or, “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether (v. 4).”
As a young woman, I put much of my confidence in verses like these. After a few hard years in full-time ministry, I came back to them to find comfort but was instead confronted by one of King David’s complex and troubling revelations:
“If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.” (v. 11-12)
We are all well acquainted with the dark. The dark for me is suffering from depression that has morphed into a chronic hormone-based disorder. It is being stewarded terribly by church leadership over and over and falling victim to spiritual abuse. However, what is most agonizing is that those circumstances birthed deep doubt − doubt producing grief and despair no trial has ever come close to.
In this passage, it is as if King David is telling us, “God sees the darkness surrounding you, and He wants you to know that He thinks it’s the light.”
How could this darkness be light to God?
Is it because, as Eliphaz accuses Job of saying, God is so “high in the heavens” that He “cannot judge through this darkness” (Job 22:13-14)? Or that He has more important matters to tend to than constantly seeing to us when we are weak and faithless?
We know these things are false. But how do we believe when our present darkness is doubt? I am not talking about just a question or two but the deep doubt that results in a dulled devotion to God, unfaithfulness or the unfortunate destination of unbelief.
For the believer, doubt carries an all-encompassing weight; it tarries day and night. This passage does not give a “weeping in the night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5)” kind of hope.
There is no anticipation of what is to come. Dark and light exist as one, at the same time. The cycle we desire is pain followed by sweet relief; however, God was very prepared when He gave this revelation to David. Maybe the relief does not come when the pain is over but is one with the pain.
For years, I have waited for my doubt to rise into faith again. I have been tempted to rush the process and convince myself to get over the grief and just stop doubting.
Through wrestling with this passage, I have found that it is actually possible for my doubt and my faith to coexist. Why? Because God is there.
If I went from heaven to the depths of the earth (v. 8) and He is still there, how is He not there in the face of my doubt? If He is still there, what makes me think that He does not call to me even in my doubting?
He is there just as Jesus patiently heard Martha when she questioned why He did not come before her brother died. He sat in the night with Nicodemus’s religious world crumbling, and He ate fish across from Peter who days previous had robustly denied Him. The omniscience of God is not afraid of our doubt, unfaithfulness or even unbelief. He was keenly aware of us before our faith was formed and while it waxes and wanes.
If people left you wounded and lost in the dark, He is there. If you are estranged from repentance, He is there. If you cannot hold on believing, He is there, and He is active. Just as He actively forms life in the dark place of the womb, He is actively preserving you in the pitch black of your doubt.
The wonderful news is that it will not be our determination or strength to guide us through, it will be by our ever-present Help. He has not once been too let down or embarrassed to gather us back in, and we can have assurance in that.
This past year has exposed what lengths many, even believers, are willing to go to gain back control of doubtful situations. My prayer is that through what has been revealed, as children of God, we would allow Him to direct us to repentance and trust, no matter how long it takes.
Let us ask as King David did for our Protector to continually “search us and know our hearts” so that He can lead us “in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)”
“Those who are tried by even the extreme shadow of this darkness, and groan under its chilly touch, need most of all cling to the central conviction that here too, where full faith is not, God is.” - H. M. Butler