The ever-present God
‘Am I a God who is only close at hand?’ says the Lord. ‘No, I am far away at the same time. Can anyone hide from me in a secret place? Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?’ says the Lord (Jeremiah 23:23-24).
The God we worship is the God who has no limits. Now, that is hard for us to even imagine, because most of the frustrations in our lives are a direct result of our limitations.
We are limited by space because we can only be in one place at one time. A recent television commercial for a new people-carrier shows a man driving between his son’s swim session and his daughter’s soccer tournament and, of course, the amazing vehicle gets him there at just the right times. But I have news for you – they don’t make one fast enough to let you be in more than one place at one time.
We’re also limited in our knowledge. The old adage is true: ‘The more you learn, the more you know how much you don’t know’. Living in an information-based society like our own, we realise that we’ll never know even a fraction of what we could know.
We encounter more information in one issue of The Times than people in the 18th century encountered in their entire lifetimes. We’re constantly meeting questions we can’t answer and facing circumstances we can’t control.
God is not limited by space
Back in the ancient world, gods were thought to be localised within their own geographical domain, usually centred on a temple or a shrine. It was commonly thought that if you went beyond a particular god’s territory you were no longer under that god’s protection.
But here we find that our God describes himself as being both near and far. The false prophets have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. God fills heaven and earth, which means there’s no place in the universe that God is not present.
But what is a scourge to false prophets should be a comfort to believers. As Christians we sometimes forget that God is always present. We tend to think that God’s presence is like a spy satellite – roaming around the atmosphere, present one day, gone the next. You never know when it’s here and when it’s not.
But such a view of the presence of God is entirely wrong, ‘for he himself has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you”’ (Hebrews 13:5). We don’t have to beg and plead with God to be here. We don’t have to worry that he is not with us in those trying moments at work – or that a Sunday might come when God forgets to turn up for the worship service. Since he isn’t limited by space, we can draw near to him at any time in any place – because he himself has already drawn near to us!
The Spirit of Christ
Christian believers can be absolutely confident of this reality. Jesus promised, ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them’ (Matthew 18:20). The context is that of church discipline but Jesus’ statement is completely general.
Furthermore, Christ’s promise to ‘two or three’ is mirrored elsewhere in Scripture by similar promises to the individual believer. Paul was humanly alone when he faced trial in Rome: ‘At my first defence no one stood with me, but all forsook me’. But he could continue, ‘But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me’ (2 Timothy 4:16-17).
‘I will not leave you orphans’, Jesus told his fretful disciples; ‘I will come to you’ (John 14:18). As the context makes clear, Christ comes to us in the person of the Holy Spirit – the other Helper who will ‘abide with [us] for ever’ (John 14:16).
We may not always feel his presence; we may even feel alone. But we can be confident that he is here. ‘Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? … If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me’ (Psalm 139:7-10).