March 16, 2020 – The God Who is Ever-Present
As a few of my friends and colleagues at Old North huddled around my laptop listening to the Governor’s address last Thursday, I was instantly transported to September 11, 2001. One of the many things I remember vividly from September 11 was the way in which older friends expressed how that moment transported them back to November 22, 1963: the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
While I had no previous frame of reference at the time of 9/11, I quickly learned that one of the most common and comforting responses to these types of large scale tragedies was people coming together. Our churches were full of people. Our homes were full of people. We all held each other a little closer during the days, weeks, and months following the 9/11 attacks.
I’m no anthropologist. But I’ve observed enough about human behavior to recognize that when things go horribly wrong, we human beings tend to come together. Not only around a common cause or set of philosophical values. We actually gather. The sincerity and sustainability of these responsive gatherings is another conversation. (Sometimes these crises bring out the worst in us!) But generally speaking, the observation remains; when the going gets tough, many get together.
This comes as no surprise to Christians, who recognize and actively participate in regular community with other Christians around the word and ordinance. We call this the local church, the gathering of God’s redeemed people.
But that’s not happening as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, at least not in the same scale. Because one thing we’ve learned from our medical experts is that there’s some wisdom in limiting exposure to one another or, “flattening the curve,” as we may have heard.
And this makes the Covid-19 pandemic unique in the sense that it has forced us into greater degrees of social distancing and even, for some, isolation. Our church will not be full this weekend as it was in the days after 9/11. It will be empty.
And while we grieve our temporary separation and look longingly to the day when we’ll all be together again (hopefully sooner than later!), we take comfort in many of God’s other blessings to us.
One I’ve been thinking about today is his attribute of omnipresence.
We human beings are limited by time and space. And while we busy, over-scheduled moms and dads may dream of a day when technology or some other feat of nature might grant us the ability to be in two places at once, we all know the impossibility of this dream. Our presence can also be limited by outside forces like sickness or disability. Then there are these voluntary seasons when, for the greater good, we choose to love one another by limiting our presence together.
But this is not the case for our great God. His is not limited by time and space. He transcends them both. This is what we call God’s divine attribute of omnipresence. Theologian Louis Berhoff defines the immensity and omnipresence of God as “that perfection of the Divine Being by which He transcends all spatial limitations, and yet is present in every point of space with His whole Being”.
David prays in the Psalms,
“Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
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)
Solomon prays in his dedication of the temple, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27)
Isaiah writes, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool”
Christian, in the midst of your increased solitude and perhaps even loneliness during this unique time in history, remember that you are not alone. You are not alone. The God who is ever-present is ever-present with you.
But the news gets even better. Because as Christians, to say that God is with us goes even beyond the comfort and joy of his abiding presence. As Christians, to say that God is with us means that he is also for us.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-39)
So as we struggle along over these next days and weeks, may we be encouraged by the omnipresent God who is ever with us; and, because of Jesus, ever for us.
With love and longing,