We were still basking in the joy of Christ’s resurrection on the day after Easter when we got word that one of the young men in our church had been killed. Just the day before – on Easter Sunday – we had read these triumphant words:
Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting”
(1 Corinthians 15:54-55 ESV)
Then just over 24 hours later, we felt the sting of death. We felt like we were being swallowed up with sorrow instead of death being swallowed up in victory. And not only the death of one in our family, but our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka felt the sting of death at Easter as bombs went off in churches while they were celebrating the resurrection of our Lord. What do we do in times like this? How can we know the victory of Christ’s resurrection when tragedy and death still haunt us in this life?
Asking questions like “Why?” or “What if?” don’t help, because those questions are usually unanswerable. But there is a question we can answer: “What now?” That’s a question that speaks to the future – to moving forward – and we can move forward because of the God who provided the great Resurrection victory over death that we celebrate at Easter. The writer of Psalm 139 tells us three great truths about our God that help us know what to do now.
First, our God knows every movement we make and every action we take
We read in verses 1 thru 6 that God knows our lives down to the minutest detail – when and where we sit or stand, what our thoughts are, and even the words we are going to say before we ever say them.
Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I stand up;
You understand my thoughts from far away.
You observe my travels and my rest; you are aware of all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue, you know all about it, Lord.
You have encircled me; you have placed your hand on me.
This wondrous knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to reach it. (CSB)
This truth gives us hope in our grief because the God who knows us in such intimate detail is the God who controls the affairs of this world. And in God’s world, nothing happens outside of his sovereign knowledge and control. So, we trust.
Second, our God is present everywhere we are and everywhere we have been.
Verses 7 thru 12 tell us that no matter how dark our circumstances – no matter how tragic our experience – God is right there.
Where can I go to escape your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits,
even there your hand will lead me; your right hand will hold on to me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light around me will be night”—
even the darkness is not dark to you. The night shines like the day;
darkness and light are alike to you. (CSB)
After being released from a Nazi prison camp, Corrie Ten Boom could testify that “there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” As the hymn writer Isaac Watts put it, “everywhere that man shall be, Thou God art present there.” And not only is God where we are going, but our God is not bound by time as we know it, so that He is still in our past – in the places we have been. Past, present, or future, God is present and guiding our circumstances by his great love. So, we seek to be close to our ever-present God.
Third, our God loves us more than we can imagine and loves our loved ones far more than we ever could.
Verses 13 thru 18 paint a word picture of how our God cares about every part of who we are, and everything we experience.
For it was you who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise you because I have been remarkably and wondrously made.
Your works are wondrous, and I know this very well.
My bones were not hidden from you when I was made in secret,
when I was formed in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in your book and planned before a single one of them began.
God, how precious your thoughts are to me; how vast their sum is!
If I counted them, they would outnumber the grains of sand;
when I wake up, I am still with you. (CSB)
He is the great Creator of life in a mother’s womb. He is the one who has our days planned before we ever come to be. And He is the one whose thoughts toward us are precious and full of love. He knows our grief – he has carried our sorrows – and He triumphed over all that causes pain and heartache on the Cross. So, we rest in His great love for us. The empty tomb of Easter is proof positive that, while the defeat of death is not complete yet, one day it will be. One day, tears of agony will no longer run down cheeks. One day, spouses or parents will no longer receive a dreaded phone call in the night. Until that day, may this be our prayer:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
(Psalm 139:23-24 NLT)