Psalm 139 is one of the better-loved psalms. If we study it from a purely theological standpoint, we might call it the “omni” psalm, because it is one of the primary texts in Scripture that clearly teach divine omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. These are theological categories that find their place in systematic theology textbooks and theological discussions. But we must see that David was interested in more than orthodox theology when he wrote these words.
Of course, Christianity is not anti-intellectual. It is a thinking man’s faith. Marlene Winnell, author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion, tells the story of Sandy, a young man who abandoned Christianity when his pastor refused to engage with him on his intellectual struggles with the faith, instead telling him that his questions were sin. This man found that he could not follow “a religion that made thinking a sin.”
We should never refuse to engage with people’s questions. The church should be a place where people are free to wrestle with their doubts. We should be thankful for men and women of God whose focus is the field of apologetics, which exists to help provide rational answers to intellectual challenges to Christianity. But we must at the same time recognise that intellectual integrity and orthodox theology are not the end goal of Christianity. Christianity exists to transform our affections and actions, not merely to answer our questions. Yes, we must love the Lord our God with all our mind, but also with all our heart and soul and strength.
Psalm 139 teaches complex doctrines of the faith: omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. But it calls us to much more than intellectual affirmation of these truths. It calls us to believe these truths while allowing them to transform the way we relate to God and others. Consider at least two ways in which this is true.
First, orthodox theology should drive us to separate from all that is evil (vv. 19–22). David writes of his commitment to separate from men of blood, from those who speak against God with malicious intent and take his name in vain, and from those who express hatred toward God with their actions. He would not allow his orthodox theology to override his commitment to seek out fellowship with the faithful rather than with the godless. His theology informed his choice of friends.
Good theology should likewise inform our choice of friends. Is your Christianity purely intellectual, or does it drive you to transparent relationships with those who love God? Do you seek to minimise intimate relationships with those who hate God and instead choose companionship with those who will point you to Christ? You can have all the correct theology in the world, but if you do not surround yourself with those who can hold you accountable for your sin and point you to Christ, your orthodoxy is futile.
Second, orthodox theology should invite God to search us for and cleanse us from sin (vv. 23–24). Orthodox theology is meaningless if we are able to live a life of hidden sin. This is not to say that orthodoxy should lead to sinlessness, but orthodoxy is pointless if we are able to bury a lifestyle of unrepentant sin under a veneer of theology. We can say all the right things, but if we do not at the same time plead with God to search us and cleanse us, our theology is emptied of its power.
Orthodox theology is important. We must strive to love God with all our mind. But Psalm 139 reminds us that orthodoxy is a sham if it is divorced from orthopraxy. As we love God with all our mind, we must also love him with all our heart, soul, and strength. Orthodox theology must be married to practical theology if it will enjoy the real power of the gospel.