Is God Our Intimate Companion or Infinite Judge?

One of our fellow workers in the Lord with the Dong people of China relates this experience:

I was spending some time in Bible study with three Dong friends on a Sunday, a humble yet new Christian couple and a believer of several years who has not shown much growth. We were reading about the love of Christ, a love of complete sacrifice, and a love he calls us to live out in his words, "by this all men will know that you are my disciples."

Then, the elder believer, who did not previously know the young couple, putting on the airs of a pastor, quite randomly began sharing from Psalm 139. At first, it seemed like it might fit in: a God of love, clearly showing his love for us, and using Psalm 139 to show the intimate relationship we have with Jesus Christ.

We all read the psalm outloud together, and our brother began a discourse along these lines: "No matter where we go, he always sees us. Even if we sin in our heart, he will know it. There is no sin or act we can hide from him."

Though true, this is certainly not the point of Psalm 139. So, without directly shaming him, I began to share some of my own thoughts from the psalm. It starts with, "O LORD, you have searched me and known me!"
Though that could have two different interpretations, we will see later on in David's psalm that he is speaking of God as a companion, not a permnent and ever-present judge. Sure, God is that too, but his infinite transcendence must be balanced with the Abba-Father, immanent and intimate relationship to gain a full understanding of God.
In verse 10, we see a clear and unmistakable statement of the meaning David is portraying, the relationship he had with God: "even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me." When all fails, he is there. When we fall off a ship and plunge to the deathly depths, his right hand shall hold us. Even if we intentionally flee from him, his Spirit will lovingly guide us back to the Way of Truth.
See, our Dong brother is a perfect product of animism. Just as the Dong people's animistic spirit worship has been painted over with a facade of Buddhism, so has his relationship with Christ been paralyzed by an extreme emphasis on right and wrong, a fear of an all-knowing judge watching every step just waiting for us to slip up. Even when he hears the exact verses that should encourage him and help him understand who God is, he cannot truly hear them.
And we will see this experience repeated over and over again throughout the Dong word. A loving God, an intimate companion will be a difficult concept for many. We need to pray for this brother and for the many others under the same evil deception. We need to pray that their experience with their God will help them understand God's love, a love that never stops even though we never deserve it.

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