"Where can I go to get away from your Spirit? Where can I run from you? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I lie down in the grave, you are there." Psalm 139:7-8
How often have you been in a church service where someone's asked God "to come"? In other words, to arrive? I've been musing on what's become a part of the Christian consciousness - the idea that God turns up for a moment only to then leave us again. It's what I call the Lucozade God - the God who comes, gives us a temporary boost and then says "See you next Sunday". The problem is that it simply doesn't register with my concept of the Biblical God - with His character as much as with any specific Biblical statement. I doubt that many Christians would specifically agree with the idea that God abandons us (they'd probably crack out the footprints story or Hebrews 13:5). But it's something that seeps into the way we talk about God, and particularly His presence.
Hang on. Isn't there a Biblical precedent for God being particularly present in one particular place? Like the famous Shekhinah overwhelming the priests in 1 Kings 8:10-11? There's an aspect of that question that's too big for me to consider in a single post and so I may return to this later. For now, let me say that God certainly did dwell with His people in the Jerusalem Temple (and elsewhere) in a unique way. That doesn't mean that He was isolated there. Put simply, you can't lock God in a church, or a Temple (1 Kings 8:27).
Or, to say it a different way: how many atoms in the room that you're in right now do you think God is absent from?
I don't think there's a single place where you could say, 'God is not there'. Like the Psalm says, there's nowhere where we could run away from Him. God is everywhere, the definition of a God immersed and dwelling in His creation (whilst still remaining distinct from it). If that thought is mind-blowing let's not write it off for seeming too incredible.
There are two important caveats to this. Firstly, there is certainly a distinction between a Christian's experience of God's presence and a non-Christian's. As a Christian, I have the indwelling presence of God's Spirit that marks me out as His in a way that is distinct from a non-Christian (Ephesians 1:13-14). I don't think that means that when someone becomes a Christian God 'turns up' for the first time. Rather, it's like a jumbled TV signal that was always there that gets suddenly sharpened. I particularly love Rob Bell's idea (from his video, called 'Breathe') that God's name is written into our very breathing, even if we don't know Him. Secondly, God's being omnipresent (everywhere) doesn't mean that spiritual warfare isn't a reality. We won't always feel or experience God in the same way. We won't always have the 'high' of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes God feels pretty far away. That doesn't detract from His very real constant presence in our lives - whether we notice Him or not. Perhaps our prayer in the place of spiritual barrenness shouldn't be that God comes into our emptiness but that we become aware of just how present He already is.
A large part of this problem is that as humans we're limited - we're only in one place at a time and therefore think in terms of 'coming' and 'going' all the time. But God is Spirit (John 4:24) and doesn't follow the same rules as us.* I don't want to outlaw the language of God 'coming'. Sometimes all that we mean by it in our own minds is that we want God to be more sovereign. But we shouldn't let that convince us that God isn't there.
Because He always, always is.
As ever, let me know what you think...
* Of course, in taking on flesh, Jesus certainly did follow the same rules as us with regards to physical limitations (only being in one place at one time). That doesn't really affect the point I'm making, though.