The Nearness of God
At times when I have invited people to church with me, they have objected by saying, “Well, I don’t need to go to church to find God. If there is a God then I can find Him in my home or at work or out in nature.” Although this objection misses the point concerning the purpose and benefits of going to church, there is great truth in it. God is everywhere. His presence is not limited to a church building. There is nowhere where God is not present.
Our awesome God is omnipresent. He is here, close to me. And He is right next to you! And if we were suddenly transported to the furthest corner of the earth or simply around the corner from where we are right now, God would be there. There is no place in heaven or on earth where God is not present. There is no way to confine God to a certain place. King Solomon understood this truth. Solomon built a majestic temple for the worship of God. It would be called the house of God. But Solomon made it clear, in his prayer to dedicate the temple, that God’s presence could not be limited to a particular place, not even the temple.
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27)
God had promised that His Spirit and presence would be in the temple. But Solomon was wise enough to know that God would not dwell only in the temple. God transcends containment by anything in creation. You cannot limit His presence to a particular building or place in the universe. In some wonderful but inexplicable way all of God exists everywhere. He is near to you wherever you are.
It is not that a part of God is here and another part of God is over there. God is not stretched thin across the universe. Nor is He broken up into bits and pieces here and there. All of who God is and all of what God is, is everywhere both near and far. In Psalm 139, David expresses his wonder and amazement at how intimately God knows him. God knew David when he was being formed in his mother’s womb.
For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they were all written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them. (Psalm 139:13-16)
God also knew all of David’s thoughts and actions.
O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether (Psalm 139:1-4)
This is also true for you and for me. God has a personal and intimate knowledge of us no matter where we are or what we are doing. And like David there is no place we could ever go where God’s presence would not be there.
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? (Psalm 139:7)
When David asked this question it was not because he wanted to flee from God. He asks the question to lay the groundwork for the truth that God is present everywhere. He is always near. For the unbeliever and the wicked this means that they can never escape God’s righteous judgment against them. 36 But for the believer, for the child of God, the ever-present nearness of God is a great comfort.
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell 37, behold, 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)
If we suddenly found ourselves in heaven, God would be there. Should we die and be placed in the deepest part of the earth, God would be there. If we were to take the wings of the morning, which poetically describes riding a beam of sun light to the most remote part of some distant sea, God would be there. He would be there to lead us, to guide us, and to hold us with His power and love.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You. (Psalm 139:11, 12)
God is always present even in the deepest darkness. No literal darkness can hide us from God or keep Him from us. And in those dark times of life, in those times of trial and testing, God is always near. And He brings light into the darkness with His presence.
A very good example of this is Daniel in the lion’s den. 38 Daniel’s enemies were trying to throw him out of power in the king’s court. Therefore they had a law passed that no one could pray to anyone but the king. They knew that Daniel would not keep this law. Daniel continued to pray to God and he was condemned and thrown into the lion’s den to face certain death. He was sealed into the den by a large stone that covered the opening and he was in literal darkness. The king, who knew Daniel, was so worried about Daniel that he could not sleep. But the next morning when he went to the den, Daniel was alive and unharmed “because he believed in his God (Daniel 6:23)”—a God who sees and protects His people even in the dark. Daniel knew that God was with him. Psalm 23:4 says,
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me. Psalm 23:4
Whatever we do, wherever we are, God is right there to provide for us, guide us and protect us. We are always and everywhere in His constant care. There is simply no place to hide from God. And there is no place you could ever be, as a child of God, where God’s presence will not be there. If you are at home, God is there. If you are at school, God is there. If you are at work, God is there. If you are in some distant and dangerous place, God will be there. God is near to you at all times and in all places.
God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling. (Psalm 46:1-3)
The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. (Psalm 46:7)
The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. (Psalm 46:11)
“The LORD of hosts” is always with us, therefore we will not fear. The Lord God Almighty is closer to you than your very breath. Speaking to the prophet Jeremiah, God declared,
“Am I a God near at hand,” says the LORD, “And not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places, So I shall not see him?” says the LORD;
“Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the LORD. ( Jeremiah 23:23, 24)
There is no place where God is not. There is no place where the love of God is not, where the power of God is not or where the goodness of God is not. Psalm 23:6 states,
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life . . . Psalm 23:6
Why? The answer is that God will already be wherever you are, wherever you may go. In the words of an old country preacher,
God is so high, you can’t get over Him, so low you can’t get under Him, so wide, you can’t get around Him.
In Acts 17:28, the apostle Paul said of God,
. . . in Him we live and move and have our being . . .
The apostle spoke these words to people who did not know the one true God. The Almighty surrounds all of us, both saints and sinners just like the atmosphere surrounds our planet. Psalm 145:18 proclaims, The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth.
So why do we sometimes feel that God is so very far away from us? Why does He seem so distant at times? The problem is not that God has left us and gone far away. The problem is with our hearts. We have a moral problem. Our sin or sins have separated us from God. 39 When it seems that God is far from us, He is present, but we are alienated from Him in our heart. We are out of fellowship with Him. And the way for us to once again feel His sweet presence is for us to humble ourselves and ask for the forgiveness of our sins.
For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit . . . (Isaiah 57:15a)
When we humble ourselves before God and confess our sins, God once again dwells with us. We have fellowship with Him. The apostle John wrote
, . . . if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another . . .(1 John 1:7)
This is why God is so intimately and uniquely with His people though He is not far from anyone. Not only is God with His people, He is in them!
You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 40 (1 John 4:4)
If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord God Almighty is in you! His empowering presence is within you in the gift of the holy Spirit. 41 God is not just near you, but in you! And He is in the church.
Now therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
The church is the dwelling place of God in the Spirit. He is with His people. He sees you as you arrive to church. He sees when you arrive late. He was next to you when you sang songs of praise and worshipped halfheartedly. He was there when you dozed off during the teaching of His Word. He sees everything that happens in His church—the good and the bad.
If this is true, and it is, it should change how we live and relate to others in the church. It should affect how we worship, how we give and how we serve. If my spouse is a believer have I treated him or her as the habitation of God? If my children are believers have I treated them as one in whom is the Spirit of the living God? If my parents are believers do I treat them with the respect I would have if I were face to face with God? Do we realize that when we inter-act with someone in the church, in the family of God, we are relating to someone in whom the very presence of God dwells? May God forgive us for our many sins against His people and against His holy and precious presence! A knowledge that God is near should shield us from temptation to indulge in sin.
A knowledge that God is near should motivate us to love and worship Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. A knowledge that our God is near should spur us on to Christian growth and maturity and to loving service to others. In the light of the truth that God is near us, indeed within us, may we take heed to the apostle Paul’s exhortation,
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out you own salvation 42 with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12, 13)
Each and every moment of the day our attitude and actions should show that God is at work within us. When we obey His Word, the very power and presence of God within us helps us to become the men and women we truly want to become. And together we grow into a beautiful and holy dwelling place for God in the Spirit. God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5),” Therefore “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:22a).”