We have all heard that part of Psalm 139. How we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and how God “knit me together in my mothers’ womb.” And how God’s “eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” It is a truly fascinating, overwhelming and captivating truth. One that the prophet David wrestled with so beautifully and honestly thousands of years to go. And I think his struggle is very relevant today.
My pastor, Dr. Dave Haney, at Riverbend Church in Austin, recently did a sermon on Psalm 139 that took my breath away. It brought tears to my eyes and made me view my body and my relationship with God in a completely different light. It was a wake-up call. Here is the opening concept the Dr. Haney poses before answering his own questions in the breakdown of Psalm 139:
“The greatest injustice that we experience in our life is our birth. We don’t get a voice, we don’t get a choice. Most of who we are, that defines us (our height, our shoe size, our eye color, whether or not we lose our hair when we get older, the size of our hands, the length of our fingers, our color of our skin color, our inclination to pursue certain things, our appetites, there are people even believe that some of our behaviors, the capacities that we have, the limitations that we have). All of these things that we are born with, we are born with without our consent... But most significantly of all, none of us gets to choose when we are born, to whom we are born or where we are born. Most of the entirety of our identity is handed to us without our consent, without our choice, without our involvement…. The bulk of who we are is what we are given, how we are made, without our consent. This is what David is wrestling with in Psalm 139: the injustice and the unfairness of it all. How is it possible that the majority of our existence, the greatest and largest defining attributes of our lives: when we are born, where we are born, to whom we are born, all of the physical components of our life, are given to us without any input from us. How can this great injustice be? Psalm 139, in these 5 short verses, I believe that David is wrestling with that. He is not just celebrating the beauty of our creation and how we are made, he is wrestling with the “why?”
(Link to Sermon)
Wow. How many times have I contemplated JUST that. If God has 100% control over me: my body, the circumstances into which I was born, if all of my days were pre-ordained, then why did he give me Friedreich’s Ataxia?
Dr. Haney then goes into the background and meaning of the Hebrew words from which “fearfully and wonderfully” are translated. Fearfully can be translated to mean “to be overwhelmed; incomprehensible, shocking.” Wonderfully means “amazing in uniqueness, like you can’t believe your eyes.” So it is quite clear why we celebrate the “wonderfully” made part. But what do we do with the “fearfully” part? The part we don’t understand and can’t comprehend? The part that makes us question our faith and God’s goodness to us?
Dr. Haney then goes into a bit of a genetics lesson. I think that this is to show both the beauty and enormity of God’s intricate design of human life. Here is a basic summary of his points on this topic:
All humans are constructed from DNA. This DNA is able to reproduce because it's made up of RNA proteins that are trained to split apart and replicate. In our body, there are 3.1 BILLION t-cells (the part that connects the RNA to the DNA - basically the core of DNA) And from the moment of conception, when our bodies begin to be formed, that one single cell contains the DNA, the blueprint to make all 3.1 billion t-cells that makes the 100 trillion cells that make up an adult human being. We are woven together in a pattern that replicates itself and forms all living things.
So from the very beginning, when we are but one tiny cell, our whole roadmap is outlined. Who we will be is already decided. That is simply amazing. For better or worse, good and bad, all of your flaws and imperfections are right there in your DNA, before you are more than 2 cells big. What a big God we have.
Dr. Haney then goes on to talk about cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and progressively limits the ability to breathe. In people with CF, a defective gene causes a thick, buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs. When they discovered this disease at the turn of the 20th century, they began to develop treatments for the symptoms and helped increase the life expectancy. But it wasn't until 1970's that Dr. Francis Collins started researching what genetically causes the disease. The disease presents itself when two parents who have the recessive gene (and no symptoms) combine and from their DNA, a child with cystic fibrosis is born. So Dr. Collins set out to look for the cause of this. He was going to search all 3.1 billion t-cells for the "misspelling" to see where things are going wrong. He wrote that it was "like looking for one single burnt out light-bulb in a basement, somewhere in the US." But he did it. They were able to find the misspelling that caused the expression of cyclic fibrosis.
After Dr. Collins’ work on cystic fibrosis, he was asked to head up the human genome project. When he and a group of scientists finished mapping all 3.1 billion cells, he wrote "The Language of God." Here is an excerpt from that book:
"Many people who have considered all the scientific and spiritual evidence still see God's creative and guiding hand at work. For me, there is not a shred of disappointment or disillusionment in these discoveries about the nature of life—quite the contrary! How marvelous and intricate life turns out to be! How deeply satisfying is the digital elegance of DNA! How aesthetically appealing and artistically sublime are the components of living things, from the ribosome that translates RNA into protein, to the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into the butterfly, to the fabulous plumage of the peacock attracting his mate! Evolution, as a mechanism, can be and must be true. But that says nothing about the nature of its author. For those who believe in God, there are reasons now to be more in awe, not less. "
So it's easy for some of us to look at this and say “ya, God’s design is perfect and beautiful.” But when we honestly look, we see that every now and then, the thing is broken. And we look around and ask why is there a child born in a Syrian refugee camp, or born deformed, or with a disease, or with disabilities, or in starvation ridden Sudan, or to a mother who is a heroin addict? Where is the justice in that? Where is the wonder and the beauty in an innocent person who suffers the injustice of being made flawed? How do we come to terms with that?
And that brings us back to Psalm 139. David didn't say that we are just wonderfully made, he said we are also FEARFULLY made. And God knows what he's doing. He does not make mistakes; we are who he intended us to be, flaws and all. And the frightening reality is that we just have to trust God. We are all here with a purpose. We are his masterpiece.
So we have two choices.
1. We can be mad at God. We can tell him we can't trust him. We can't trust a God who is so random, cruel and unjust to so many. We can go our own way and do life on our own.
2. We can choose to say "I trust you, God." I trust that there is a purpose in every life and I will do what I can to make a difference. We can seek to live out God's will for our lives.
Believe me, choice 1 is terrible. I lived choice one after my diagnosis. And do you want to know what it did for me? Nothing. It got me nowhere. I was angry. I shut everyone out, including God. I just wanted a pity party. And it got me nowhere. So I started with choice 2. At first, it was kinda “fake it till you make it.” I was going through the motions of moving on. Putting a smile on my face. Proceeding with life. And eventually, I began to feel joy and hope again. True, God-given joy. What a gift that is!!
As Dr. Haney says, “It is not about what we are made of, but what we make of what we are made of.” It isn't the context of our life that defines us, that matters. It is our character that matters. God knows us and he knows what we are made of.
So I am going to take this life that was given to me and make the most of it. I am going to live life to the fullest, do what I can to cure Friedreich’s Ataxia, and continue praising God for the things in my life that are good (because there is SO MUCH good!)
Again, as Dr. Haney says, “The notion that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made is something that should bring us all a great comfort and hope; that there is intentionality and value in our lives.” Truer words have never been spoken.
God loves you and has a plan for you. Never lose hope. Life is beautiful, and so are you.
Psalm 139:13-18. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you.