Friday, 28 September 2012

God as CCTV?

When I was a wee girl, 100 years ago, my dad who was - as well as being my lovely dad - my minister, often had the congregation singing the children's hymn "God is always near me".  He must have liked it because we had it a lot.  And every time we got to the end and sang "Not a look nor word nor thought but God knows it all"  I felt a wee shiver.  God knew my every word and thought?  Yikes! 

These memories came back to me this week when I read the following post from a minister on an online forum I frequent:

"Go on - tell me I'm the only one who is always slightly shocked at the realization of how bleak a hymn this is:

God is always near me,
Hearing what I say;
Knowing all my thoughts and deeds,
All my work and play.

God is always near me,
In the darkest night,
He can see me just the same
As by midday light.

God is always near me,
Though so young and small;
Not a look, or word, or thought,
But God knows it all.

On a couple of occasions, I uset to pick it - irregularly - on the basis of remembering the first line and misremembering the rest as being about God's "nearness". (And who hasn't started reading the last verse,and assumed that it's going to end with a couplet about how God understands and forgives.)

And then I'd realize as I gave it out that there is NOTHING consoling at all in it. Bleak, bleak, bleak!!!!"

Clearly I'm not the only one who took the last two lines as a punch in the solar plexus.  And yet, it's many years since I've lost the feeling I used to have about those two lines.

Now when I read them I find great comfort in them.  Here's why.

When I was a kid, listening to/singing those lines, I was uncomfortable with the thought that I couldn't pull the wool over God's eyes, or in other words, that, no matter what act I kept up in front of my fellow human beings, I couldn't fool God.

But that - I now see - was because I thought (wrongly) that the word "Christian" meant "good person".  I wanted to be a Christian but knew I wasn't entirely a good person and, no matter how I tried, each day ended in failure to reach perfection!  I was well and truly aware of the undeniable fact that I was a sinner.  For modern non-church readers, the word "screw-up" is a possible translation of "sinner".

At the grand old age of 13 I finally "got it".  It dawned on me that reaching perfection is way beyond our ability on our own as human beings.  It dawned on me that God knew this all along and planned a daring rescue to get us out of our predicament.  It dawned on me (Good Friday, 13th April 1979) that God loved us before we loved him - LONG before we loved him.  He loved us in spite of knowing our looks, our words, our thoughts. 

In one sense I've always been a Christian believer.  I don't remember not believing.  In another sense that date in April 1979 - Good Friday - when as a young teenager I understood the great transaction that took place at the cross, was the date of my "conversion" or at least the date of my own ownership of the faith of my parents.

It wasn't all that long after that date that I came across the wonderful Psalm 139 (so much my favourite Psalm that for a while 139 was the combination lock on my briefcase!  It's now in the bin and I don't have one now so I can make free with such top secret information, hahaha) which I've read many a time at the bedside of the dying - I used to be a hospice chaplain - and in prison, where it's every bit as important, and in my own life (it's the psalm I read the day I found out I was going to be a mother, for instance).

When I sing, tunelessly in my case, "God is always near me...  not a look nor word nor thought but God knows it all"...  I no longer feel that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I no longer think that, oh dear, I am "stuffed" because God has seen the real me and the game's a bogey, as we say in Scotland when it's all gone pear-shaped. 

Quite the reverse, actually. 

I now think, "God is always near me...  Not a look, nor word, nor thought, but God knows it all AND YET HE LOVES ME!!  YUSSSSSSS!!"   There is nowhere I can go (prison, even) where God won't see me, love me and hear me.  He's under no illusions about the real me, even if other people are, but he LOVES me!  How fab... 




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