God knows us so well. Deep in our consciousness, He moves, examining all our hidden places, shedding his piercing light in the contours of our evasions and our defenses. He breaks them down with the warmth of His acceptance. Then, at just the right moment, He breaks through and pleads for our assent. We always knew that He knew. Like a long-lost friend, He embraces our brokenness and our littleness and our we-dare-not-dream-that-it-could-happen; speaking just the right word, summoning the most accurate and revealing knowledge of our lives, and saying that it is good. And despite the sin and the hatreds of our lives, He heals us by one look of His providence.
And then we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are not alone and that we are loved.
Thus, the grace of God that abides in us works its salvation. It is not extrinsic to us, but in our very bones. God is not out there somewhere in the cosmos. He moves within our very being and is the closest to us. He is intimacy itself. So close that we barely notice Him sometimes. He does not shout. He whispers.
I don’t know what your reaction is to His closeness. I find it both comforting and scary. It is comforting to know that Someone truly knows us (even our moments that make us feel ashamed) and still loves and cherishes us. He would do anything for us except take away our freedom and do it Himself. Our choices matter to Him and if we choose to walk our own path and not accept His offer of love, he will respect that tragic choice. But He will also, like a good and hopeful parent who has been disappointed many times by their child, stay close to us and hang in there for us and in us.
I am reminded of the beautiful parable of the Prodigal Son. This wonderful story has inspired great artists. I remember seeing the Rembrandt painting of the reconciliation of Father and Son in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. There were literally hundreds of Chinese tourists from Communist China staring at the painting. They seemed to be moved by it, but, given that most of them were unbelievers, I wondered what they got out of it.
I also saw the Balanchine Ballet telling the story of the Prodigal Son in classical dance. It was spellbinding.
Rembrandt as a painter and Balanchine as a choreographer both were moved by the story which is timeless and stretches across many cultures.
It tells the story of the God of Jesus Christ, that same God who knows us so well and who just won’t give up on us. Both sons disrespect the Father. But he runs to greet the younger and when the older won’t join the welcome home party of the bad-boy son, his father comes to plead with him to love his brother.
How can you not love a Dad like that!
I think we are too literal in our spatial understanding of the presence of God in our lives. Even though we think we are so sophisticated we have to admit that God is like an old man in the sky. What a poor understanding of the Creator and the Sustainer of the Universe, who knows the number of hairs we have on our heads, who can name every atom in our bodies, who felt for us even when we tripped and fell when we were 3 years old!
It is so important to have a more nuanced, and at the same time more expansive, view of God and His presence in our lives—every minute of our lives.
In this time of ‘social distancing’, we have to radically redefine the closeness of God to us, and the spiritual and moral implications of this renewed vision.
Things are a lot more mysterious and more wonderful about this God we worship. It is why we are so uneasy and restless. We need and want Him so much, that our whole being is not at peace until we are with Him.
And yet….how close He is!