The presence of God: Meditation for the 24th Sunday after Trinity
The Hebrew word paniyam is translated presence 76 times. Paniyam is derived from the root word pana, which means, “to turn the face.” The presence of God in the Scripture has the idea of God’s Face being turned toward someone in acceptance and favour. His presence fills up, pervades, permeates, overspreads. God is everywhere (Psa. 139: 7-8). As Christians, God is not only with us but also within us. As Paul spoke to the Athenians, “… He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being.” God’s presence is indeed pervasive. But He is also elusive or removed from us. The theological terms for these are Immanence and Transcendence. According to the World Book Dictionary, Immanence is “the pervading presence of God in His Creation,” while Transcendence of God is His being “above and independent of the physical universe.” It means being both beyond and outside or “absent” from His Creation. Therefore, God may be present but not reachable. So, although God is omnipresent, His presence may not be realised, if it is not revealed or if one is not conscious of it (Gen. 28:16), or seek it (James 4:8).
Man’s Response To God’s Presence
The recognition of the presence of God should evoke awe and some positive responses or attitudes towards Him (Isa. 6: 1). The Collect for the day, affirming the presence of God, as promised, when two or three come together in His name, elicits our responses in the petitions to: “open our eyes that we may see Him, and our hearts that we may love Him; and our will that we may obey Him.”
First, we need to realise that God is present with us. We need our spiritual eyes to be opened to see the presence of God. Seeing God is beholding His glory and splendour and necessarily results in worship. Beholding the glory of God also reflects or mirrors our own nakedness and wretchedness, and thus our humbling of ourselves. No one can see God and be arrogant.
Secondly, we should also love God or appreciate His presence, craving for it above everything else. When we see or experience the presence of God, we should never let go of His presence. We should have to desire His presence above all else (Psa. 42:1-2; 73:25). When God told the people of Israel that His angel (rather than His presence) would go with them, they regarded it as bad news and mourned (Exod. 33:1-4). They knew what the presence of God meant. Moses turned down the angelic substitute. It is the presence of God or nothing (Exod. 33:15). The presence of God is very necessary. It brings favour, blessing, protection, peace, etc., such that no other can.
Thirdly, the presence of God requires our submission and obedience. Some people may believe that God is present, but behave as if He is absent. Obedience to God and holiness are eloquent testimonies that one is well aware of God’s presence. One cannot indulge in sinful behaviour, when he knows that God is there with him and sees and knows everything he does. It shows that he is not conscious of God’s presence. The presence of God could be dangerous. He can also be a consuming fire.
The OT passage (Exod. 24:12-18) described the presence of God. Moses was called up to the presence of God, which reflected such a glory (Shekinah) that the people conceived it as a consuming fire. The presence of God is really awesome.
The Epistle (Heb. 10:19-25) recounts the bases, privileges and demands of being in the presence of God. It is by the work of Christ that we have access to the presence of God. It is a privilege that should not be abused. The presence should not be taken for granted. We should prepare for it by having ourselves cleansed.
In the Gospel (Matt. 18:18-20), God promised His presence to those who gather in His name.
Ven. Dr Princewill O. Ireoba is the Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.
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