Loving a God who knows us better than we know ourselves. Discovering a surprisingly colorful picture of God in the Psalms, Some time ago a friend of mine told me that this is a true story.
Visions of God
Discovering a surprisingly colorful picture of God in the Psalms
By Paulo Cândido de Oliveira
Some time ago a friend of mine told me that this is a true story. A religious man was smoking a cigarette under a truck trailer. Someone asked him why he was smoking under the truck. He answered: “Because down here God cannot see me.”
Understanding God is the foundation of any spiritual life. Because I grew up in a nominally Catholic country, for me this vision had to do with grandeur, solemnity, and distance. It was a matter of place, time, and right behavior. I was taught that God lived in heaven but that we could meet Him three times a week, if faithfully attending church services, and that I should behave well in His presence. In my daily life I perceived Him more like a grouchy old neighbor, constantly snooping around to catch and punish me for doing something wrong. I would mostly avoid Him except in desperate situations.
Later I met a very different God in the book of Psalms. I found Him on the streets, in shops, on corners, and in homes—always involved in the lives of people. I was surprised to see a colorful picture as He reveals Himself amid life’s messiness.
The vision of God in the book of Psalms introduced me to three characteristics of God that changed my view of Him and paved the way to spiritual vitality.
Present, Not Distant
The first characteristic, and maybe the most striking reality in the Psalms, is that God is always close to us (Ps. 139). The distorted vision of a distant God seems to be a widely shared assumption. It is easier and safer to deal with a distant God. He is less intimidating, more mysterious, and, perhaps, holier.
Much to my surprise, the Psalms showed me that the closer I got, the more I saw Him as the one who lives enveloped in the light of glory (Ps. 104:1, 2) and whose power and majesty is beyond human comprehension (Ps. 8; 139:6). I was surprised to realize that the holy God of the Psalms did not focus only upon my sins and shortcomings (Ps. 130:3, 4). The direction of a heart loyal to God seemed to be more important than the state of the heart (Ps. 106). The sacred poems and hymns invited me to come boldly and humbly to find security, peace, and rest under His shadow (Ps. 91:1, 2). In this intimate closeness I understood where lives are transformed and where we receive the strength to be faithful. Then it was just a matter of allowing Him to pull me toward Him. I suddenly realized that we could neither leave nor come into His presence. Rather, with no possibility of secrets, we exist in His presence (Ps. 139:7).
"I was wrong. God is not distant, silent, or angry."
Active, Not Silent
A second characteristic is God’s active engagement in human history (Ps. 135:6, 7). The distant God I knew was also a silent one, rarely seen or heard. I was puzzled as to how He could be mostly absent and mute in the face of misery and vastly unconcerned with humanity’s chaos. In awe I watched the slow unveiling of the face of a God who doesn’t leave humanity to its own fate, or nature to its own laws. The Psalms revealed Him as exercising control over everything (Ps. 103:19), including nations and nature (Ps. 9:7, 8; 104:14, 15, 27, 28).
Today, social and natural upheavals create a sense of uncertainty and anxiety. But the assurance in the Psalms is that God holds the future—our future—in His hands (Ps. 16:5). It was comforting to learn of His care for the one He knits together in a mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13), and I finally came face to face with His providence (Ps. 138:7, 8). He hears our prayers and responds with protection, freedom, and salvation (Ps. 18:5, 6, 16-19). His eyes follow us as beams of light in the darkest night. He hears those who are in desperate debt (Ps. 103:8) and is a refuge when we face danger (Ps. 57:1). He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry (Ps. 107:8), while faithfully standing on the side of the needy (Ps. 109:31).
Furthermore, He reminded me that He lovingly blesses the faithful and the unfaithful alike (Ps. 104:5-31). I smiled in surprise as I recognized how He makes Himself known, full of compassion and mercy (Ps. 111:4).
Loving, Not Angry
Finally, His third characteristic pointed me to the silhouette of a loving God. When I started out, I saw the picture of an angry, unhappy God. But the pictures hanging on the walls of the book of Psalms are not of a frowning face. It was a breath of fresh air to understand that He has a sense of humor (Ps. 2:4) and gives joy and happiness (Ps. 4:5-8). He specializes in turning darkness into light (Ps. 18:28) and even enjoys joyful noise (Ps. 100:1, 2). I wanted to run to Him when the Psalms revealed that He was not the grouchy God seated on a cloud with lightning in His hand ready to strike those who disobey Him. Now I could enjoy Him as the source of contentment (Ps. 126).
I couldn’t get my eyes off Psalm 136, in which He insists on declaring Himself as the loyal loving one. The authors of the Psalms—David, Asaph, Korah, Moses, Heman, Ethan, Solomon, and Jeduthun—all trusted God (Ps. 130:5) and understood that to know Him is to trust Him (Ps. 9:10).
Israel’s history is full of terrible acts of infidelity toward God. They range from envying Moses and Aaron to sacrificing children to demons. Israel rejected the Promised Land and ate food in honor of Baal. Yet in spite of all the evil actions of Israel, He still responded with mercy and care (Ps. 106).
I was wrong. God is not distant, silent, or angry. He longs to give prosperity and blessings to our families (Ps. 128; 144:12-15).
If those who argue that God doesn’t exist are fools (Ps. 14:1), so are those who think God won’t see them under a truck trailer. Fortunately, God doesn’t leave us alone to construct a black-and-white god after our own image.
The real God, in the real world, walks on our dirty streets and listens to our most mundane and trivial conversations. He wets His hands wiping the tears of the poor and the scared. He smells tragedy and hears the agony of the lost. He smiles at children playing. He joins in joyful songs at our weddings and takes note of the vows of young couples. He whispers creative ideas into the ears of poets and gives new harmonies to musicians. He is the God of everything that is human: truly, a safe dwelling place (Ps. 90:1).
Paulo Cândido de Oliveira was born in Brazil and currently serves in the Middle East. He is married to Liliane, and they have two daughters.
God the eternal Father is the Creator, Source, Sustainer, and Sovereign of all creation. He is just and holy, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. The qualities and powers exhibited in the Son and the Holy Spirit are also revelations of the Father. (Gen. 1:1; Rev. 4:11; 1 Cor. 15:28; John 3:16; 1 John 4:8; 1 Tim. 1:17; Ex. 34:6, 7; John 14:9.)