What Does Psalm 139 Mean by 'Fearfully and Wonderfully Made'?

To be fearfully and wonderfully made includes every person from the womb to the tomb as human beings who bear the image of God. Each of us began with God, was uniquely designed by God, is made in His image, and is assigned to our times. His eye is on us.

Contributing Writer
Updated Nov 14, 2022
What Does Psalm 139 Mean by 'Fearfully and Wonderfully Made'?

It’s a phrase we tell children—you are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Sometimes we say it with quiet awe. Other times, we mutter it as we shake our heads at their antics. We use the phrase to encourage one another, inscribing it in cards, posters, and hoodies. But what does it mean that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made?”

From where do we get this powerful phrase, and are we using it correctly when we share it?

It’s a powerful truth to remember that you were an idea in God’s mind at some moment outside of time. He turned this idea over and over, deciding He liked this idea—the idea that was you.

Then, according to Acts 17:26, He determined the optimal time and place for you to be alive in this world of His creation. And He placed you here with a purpose already prepared according to Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” ESV.

Each life matters. You matter. Often, our significance is hidden from us by forces of evil, our own sinful nature, or the sinful acts of others. But each of us began with God, was uniquely designed by God, is made in His image, and is assigned to our times. His eye is on us.

Believing this, trusting this, and having faith in God’s love for us may take a lifetime to embrace fully, but it is the truth. It’s an empowering truth.

What Is the Content of Psalm 139?

This powerful phrase comes from the fourteenth verse of Psalm 139, written by David. It’s an expansive and well-loved Psalm expressing David’s complete confidence in God’s constant presence, involvement in His life, and personal knowledge of David.

What Does It Mean that We are Fearfully Made?

“Fearfully” indicates that creating life is a reverent, holy process.

The word in Hebrew is yārē’. It is translated fearfully but isn’t about being scared but rather about being in the presence of what is sacred. This type of “fear” is like the sense of awe or astonishment that overcomes us in a magnificent cathedral, staring out over a great range of mountains at sunrise or when holding a newborn.

Fearfully made” means there is mysterious awesomeness about calling an individual into being. We aren’t cranked out on a human being conveyer belt in God’s great soul factory. Each of us is “crafted” by God in His image but also specially designed to be who we are, to fulfill the purpose God has planned for us.

Anyone who has spent time around babies and toddlers knows that each is impacted by their parents, but there’s more to it. They also come pre-set with their own personalities, interests, and preferences.

In Jeremiah 1:5, the prophet records a word that came to him from the Lord: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

This echoes what David writes in Psalm 139:13, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb,” and reinforced in verses 15-16, “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

Only God can design and create a human soul.

Yes, there is a physical, biological process that occurs between humans or in medical laboratories that ignites the reproductive process but infusing a biological being with a soul is God’s business.

Even with the great medical advances of our modern times, the line between life and death is still a “fearful” mystery, and each birth remains a moment of awe. Someone unlike anyone else has entered or left this world. Being present in those moments means understanding the reverence and sanctity of being “fearfully” made.

What Does It Mean That We Are Wonderfully Made?

“Wonderfully made,” translated from the Hebrew word pālâ reinforces the notion of our individual craftsmanship and purpose. This phrase means we are created “distinct,” “set apart,” or “distinguished” from other creations.

The first thing to understand about this is our distinction from all other created beings. Humans are the climax of God’s creation. We are set apart from all elements, vegetation, animal life, and even from the angels. God’s love for humans and His redemptive involvement in our story is unique in all creation.

The second thing to understand is that our design—physical, biological, mechanical, functional, mental, emotional, and spiritual—reflects our God’s expansive intelligence, wisdom, and creativity. We are wondrous and awesome in every way, and that was God’s idea.

Our bodies move, heal, perceive, see, smell, taste, touch, reproduce, bring pleasure, and even function without our express direction while we sleep. We still haven’t fully explored all the possibilities of our incredible brains, and our bodies house souls with creative, loving, sacrificing, worshipping, noble capacities that continue to amaze us. He is a designer, creator, engineer, mathematician, artist, mechanic, biologist, and philosopher, all rolled into an eternal and ever-present Father. We, in our existence, testify to His greatness.

And third, every individual has a DNA code so unique we can be identified by it and connected with relations through it. God’s Word from Genesis to Revelation is replete with the stories of people so different from each other and yet still seen, loved, and known by God. Even as we come to Christ and are being made like Him and built into the church, we don’t lose our individuality or distinction from one another. We simply learn to function in unity as one in Christ. “Wonderfully made,” indeed.

How Do We Live Like We Are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made?

How should this knowledge that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” impact our lives? How should we live with one another knowing this great truth about ourselves.

Life is sacred. My college psychology professor taught us that we would encounter in our careers many people to whom we wouldn’t relate. There would be individuals so traumatized or so damaged by life, sin, or situations, or simply so different from us that we would be hard-pressed to identify with them.

 So, he instructed us to remember that each person is made in God’s image. Each person bears within them, like the signature or thumbprint of a great painting master, the image of God. “Look for that image,” he said, “and you will remember to respect that individual as a singular work of God.” This instruction has served me well throughout decades of caring for people in crisis.

You are not hidden. It’s easy to feel lost in a crowd; there’s no greater crowd than all of humanity. At times in life, we feel small, insignificant, and unseen. David clearly felt this when he penned, “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4 ESV).

It’s natural for us to feel this at some moments in our lives. But hard times, abuse, disease, depression, and disaster can amplify this sense for many of us. We can be tempted to despair or believe God doesn’t even see us.

That is when we can turn to Psalm 139. This Psalm reminds us that we are not hidden from our loving Creator. We can trust that His eye has been on us from the beginning and that He determined our purpose. There is no place we can go, no situation that develops, no pit of sin so deep that our God cannot find us, be present with us, and lead us out into His light.

Respect that our difference is part of our design. It’s easy to get frustrated with people who see things or approach life differently than we do. It’s common to dismiss others when their perspective isn’t one we share, or their life experience doesn’t align with ours.

That’s when it’s useful to remember that we aren’t designed to be carbon copies of one another. We are “handcrafted” by God with unique features, strengths, weaknesses, perspectives, and gifts. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and should regard one another as such. Rather than complain about our differences, we should celebrate the great panoply of humanity, to which we belong.

God designed us to be in relationship with Him and other humans who are different from us. Together, we make a diverse and magnificent work of living art. We must respect that our differences are essential to His greater design.

Read this Psalm often. Ask God to let it embed like a seed in your heart. Ask for a heart that is fertile soil to receive the message that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, you are not hidden from God, and your difference is His design. It serves a purpose.

He sees you. We need you to be you, surrendered to Him. A fearful, wonderful truth.

Photo Credit: Getty/FlamingoImages

This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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