My wife and I bought two puppies a couple of years ago and started collecting information on how to raise them. Nearly every author recommended crate training, and then had to take time to defend the idea. Apparently they had heard lots of people protest that confining an animal overnight seems cruel. But dogs are not people. They are denning animals and find crates homey and comforting, especially when we put blankets over them to make it nice and dark.
Sure enough, two years later our dogs still sleep in their crates. Bed time comes and we walk together into the bedroom. The dogs go into their crates without hesitation. We latch the gates, and everyone sleeps. In the morning, we let them out and have to remember to put a gate across the bedroom door so they can’t get back in. Woofgang will just take all his bedding out and scatter it all over the place, but Suzy will likely put herself back to bed and hide at the back of the crate.
What a contrast with people, whose attitude seems to be summed up nicely in the song “Don’t Fence Me In!” We want to come and go as we please, with no restrictions. We punish criminals by putting them in a small enclosed space and shutting the gate.What seems homey and comforting to a dog seems confining and unpleasant to people.
And so what are we supposed to make of Psalm 139:5? “You have hedged me behind and before and laid you hand upon me. (NKJV)” Sound like the long arm of the law has reached out and grabbed us. It makes sense, then, that verse 7 asks, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”
Perhaps we should think more like a dog here. We might like to roam far and wide without restraint, but the world is a dangerous place. Literally and figuratively, it is full of wild beasts, raging rivers, and rugged terrain with steep drops. Where, in our roaming the earth, do we find a place of safety and protection?
Think of all the dangers in your life, the wild beasts you face at work or in the neighborhood, for example, or all the obstacles and hidden dangers you face just getting from one place to another, either in your car or as you try to work out your plans. Look at the verse again and see that God provides that safety precisely by hemming us in,as the NIV puts it, and keeping his hand on us. Think of a loving parent placing limits on a child, holding hands for a walk through the parking lot–whether the child want to hold hands just then or not.
The demanding boss or the cranky neighbor can bark and growl all they want. With God holding out hands–and perhaps preventing both them and us from saying or doing anything stupid in a temptation to conflict–they cannot hurt us. With God putting a hedge in front of us, we can’t rush out into traffic and get hit.
With all the protection and comfort God wants to provide, why would we want to flee from his presence? Yet we all do. In the short term, we’re pretty good at it. We run far enough away to get into real trouble. Fortunately, we can’t possibly run far enough away that God cannot find us. God’s prevenient grace extends even to unbelievers, who cannot get so far from God that they cannot turn to him for salvation.
That hedge that seemed so confining? Praise God for it.