You can go to Sheol and back with serenity
“Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend into heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” Psalm 139:8-10
Sheol is that place in the Hebrew Bible where the dead go, and from which they never return. Even there, the Lord stands waiting for the one who has gone down to the depths. Even there, God’s hand and God’s help are ever present.
I am wondering how anyone could escape from the hand of God. Even if they try, even if they do their level best to force God’s hand into condemnation and death, God waits with compassion to help them out. North, south, east, west to the uttermost parts of the heavens and the earth, God is there. In the light, in the dark, at dawn, at midnight, before we were born and after we die God is there.
“Through the storm, through the night; lead me on to the light” that’s the lyric in “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”
Sometimes we preachers tell you that we humans find God in very many different ways: in the Bible, in the creation, in tradition, in mystical experience, in dreams, in the torn places of our lives. But the Bible says that it is not we who find God, but God who never leaves us.
“No, never alone!,” the old song sings. Everywhere we turn, no matter where we go, God is there.
How did the psalmist know about all these places where God seeks us out? My guess is that the psalmist had been there and done that. This poet had tried to elude God; had made himself lost; had fled from God; had gone down to the depths of despair; had committed great sins; had died, even and gone to Sheol. Metaphor? I don’t know. There are more things under heaven than we can explain or understand.
Let’s say it was a metaphor. The psalmist had experienced the worst of what life brought and the psalmist had sought out the lowest and most distant places away from God or so he supposed. How far from God do you think you can go? How far from God have you been?
Well, the truth is, not far at all. God has never left the building. God has come down here to help us, to give us an everlasting and ever-present salvation. If you feel that, if you live that, you will never feel alone. You will recognize that you are fearfully and wonderfully made and you will love your neighbors because you know that’s true of them as well. When you wake up to the presence of God, to the fact that you live always “before God,” as my friend George Stroup writes, you can go even to Sheol and back with serenity.
The Rev. Marilyn Levine is pastor of United Congregational Church, New Town, and Memorial Congregational Church, Parshall.