The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose legacy we honor this Sunday, believed in a radical freedom that comes from being fully known by God — a whole-hearted liberty for all, validated by the image of the divine reflected in each human soul.
But how can it be that the one God who created everything — the force and light behind all there is, was, and will be — knows each of us so personally? How does the God of the universe witness our private moments and sorrows, or share in our unique and human joys? How can God accept each of us as we are, holding the faith and foibles of every single person on the planet, and be present to both the weak and the strong, the wise and the uncertain?
In the scripture reading for this coming Sunday, our Psalmist makes a bold claim:
Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting-places
and are acquainted with all my ways.
The Psalmist declares God is a seeker and a see-er: Nothing is hidden from God’s view. The Psalmist lies down in the evening and wakes with the sun, and God surveys it all — and every moment in between. Even to the far corners of the world, God accompanies them. Amazingly, this applies to us too. God sees each of us in the particulars of our lives, from our first cup of coffee to our midnight ponderings. Our dreams and fears, our hopes and longings — these are known by and matter to God.
If we are honest, this may feel disconcerting. Who among us does not have recesses in our hearts where we harbor unforgiveness or fear? But being deeply known by God is connected to radical freedom. When we internalize how God sees us exactly as we are and still loves us, we take steps towards a more lasting liberation. By resting in God’s love and acceptance, we allow God to mold our character. We are transformed by God’s knowing into people who are more just, kinder, and more forgiving. Through God’s graciousness, we extend grace to others, wishing and acting toward security and confidence for every person — each in their full worth and dignity before the eyes of God.
[God’s] boundless love supports and contains us as a mighty ocean contains and supports the tiny drops of every wave.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In “Antidotes for Fear,” Dr. King wrote, “[Humankind] is not a wisp of smoke from a limitless smoldering, but a child created ‘a little lower than the angels.’ Above the manyness of time stands the one eternal God, with wisdom to guide us, strength to protect us, and love to keep us. [God’s] boundless love supports and contains us as a mighty ocean contains and supports the tiny drops of every wave. With a surging fullness, [God] is forever moving toward us, seeking to fill the little creeks and bays of our lives with unlimited resources … [Anyone] who finds this cosmic sustenance can walk the highways of life without the fatigue of pessimism and the weight of morbid fears.”
For Dr. King, affirming God’s eyes upon us enables freedom from fear and a core belief from which to take action in the world toward widening justice. Free under God’s gaze, may we come to accept our own belovedness, rooted in the faith-filled freedom of being known by God.
Here are more ways to think about how God’s love supports our work toward widening justice.
Meditating on Psalm 139, theologian and civil rights activist Howard Thurman concludes, “[T]he whole context of my life has been lived under the scrutiny of God, and nothing that happens to me is a part of something that is really irrelevant to the order of my life.”
Icon painter Kelly Latimore helps us honor and remember “The Saints of Selma.”
In light of the many conflicts around the world, there has never been a better time to revisit the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy on nonviolence: “a love-centered way of thinking, speaking, acting, and engaging that leads to personal, cultural and societal transformation.”
The Morehouse College Glee Club performs “We Shall Overcome.”
In pastor and poet Eugene Peterson’s Message translation of the Bible, he brings the poetry of Psalm 139 into modern parlance:
God, investigate my life;
get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too —
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful —
I can’t take it all in!