Pastor Timothy Seitz-Brown takes a closer look at what God is saying to us today through Psalm 139.
Psalm 139 is beautiful, brutally honest prayer that, when read thoroughly, is disturbing. Lutherans read the Bible as both unmasking our complicity in wicked systems and as revealing God at work—healing our relationships with God, humanity and creation. It goes like this…
No matter how high or how low we go, even down into the grave, God’s mercy finds us (139:7-8).
Despite what others might think about us, the Creator reminds us that we are “marvelously made” (139:14).
Amidst a time when the world has stopped making sense to us, we receive assurance that somehow God’s wisdom will work it all out, even when we cannot imagine how (139:17-18).
I love this psalm, and yet… it takes a sudden, disturbing turn (139:19).
We are swift to become outraged at the evil we see in others (139:20).
We confidently equate our “goodness” with God’s and put “those people” beyond the reach of God’s compassion (139:21).
Without embarrassment, we take pride in a complete, total hatred of “those people,” our enemies (139:22).
We invite God to go ahead and search our hearts and minds for any potential wickedness (139:23).
And, if I were to put it in terms of an earlier psalm, we petition the Lord, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (51:10 = 139:24).
Even though the Lutheran Confessions resist self-righteousness, I find our practice of being “saved by grace” collapses whenever we talk about the ELCA’s historic, continuing complicity with white supremacy. It triggers anger in white people like me simply to say the words “white supremacy,” which means treating white bodies and souls as more treasured than black and brown ones.
Since white people are “marvelously made,” we are empowered by God’s grace to delight in naming the truth that Black Lives Matter! Because we are liberated to see people of color as “marvelously made” as images of God, by the Spirit we are given the ability to both resist and dismantle systems of “white supremacy.” Because God loves us, we can be relaxed about letting go of our “self-righteous goodness”
In 2021, this psalm invites people who are white to delight, desire and find joy in saying that “Black Lives Matter” because we know everyone is made in the image of God.
May white followers of Christ allow God to search for any complicity in us so that we might live lives of daily repentance.
Pastor Tim Seitz-Brown is a member of the Towards Racial Justice Team and an experienced speaker and trainer in areas of public witness, advocacy, the historical roots of white privilege and racism.
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.
19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
20 those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil!
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.