The Nearness of God



To many people God is really distant and unknowable. This is due to a lack of knowledge of what God has done in telling us about Himself.

Philosophy cannot help much in giving information about God. At best philosophy can indicate reasoning processes that lead to the conclusion that Something exists, but whether that Being cares about mankind it is hard to say. There are philosophical systems like Hinduism that are pantheistic and regard everything as a part of the body of God. A tree is part of the body of God as well as any little or big creature. Some creatures are more sacred than others, like cows that have been worshiped, revered, and regarded as being inhabited by gods. Pantheism becomes so vague that it breaks down into poly theism whereby many gods take on various functions, like a god for rain, a god for healing, etc.

There is a document that claims God has revealed Himself in history and has demonstrated his closeness, his nearness, and his love for His creation. There are a number of steps in this revelation. Let’s begin at the beginning of the Bible.

1. The story of Creation.

Why is there something and not nothing? The world is not eternal. It had a beginning and mankind had a beginning. The story of creation not only gives the beginning of mankind and other creatures, but it gives a picture of God creating man and woman, giving them a responsible job in the garden, meeting up with them when they disobeyed God’s command. In spite of the sin and rebellion against God a promise is made that the tempter would meet its defeat by one of the woman’s descendants. (Gen. 3:15) It is important to note that God encountered the two people, punished their rebellion, but did not kill them. There was still hope for them and their progeny.

Verse 8, has a verse about the nearness of God, “the man and woman heard the LORD God walking in the garden.” How does the Infinite Creator “walk in the garden?” The word “theophany” does not appear in this text but has been used by scholars to refer to the appearance of God in human form. We will see this later particularly in the story of Abraham.
In spite of what the couple had done, God did not give up on them. He communicated with them, and made clothing for them.


Abraham appears in the story beginning with chapter 12. Abraham is told to leave his country and go to “the land that I will show you.” Later, in 13:14, the Lord reaffirmed his commitment to Abraham but we are not told how. However, in Gen. 15 God reveals himself in a vision to Abram. Still later, we read, Abram was ninety-nine years old when the LORD appeared to him again and said, "I am God All-Powerful. If you obey me and always do right, I will keep my solemn promise to you and give you more descendants than can be counted." Gen. 17:1-2)

The appearance of the Lord becomes more detailed in Genesis 18. “ One hot summer afternoon Abraham was sitting by the entrance to his tent near the sacred trees of Mamre, when the LORD appeared to him. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. He quickly ran to meet them, bowed with his face to the ground. (Gen. 18:1-2) Then Genesis 18:10 declares “ One of the guests was the LORD, and he said, "I'll come back about this time next year, and when I do, Sarah will already have a son."

The other two “men” are angels who go to Sodom to warn Lot and rescue him. God continues to communicate with humanity and makes promises to some of his people.

3. Isaac

Isaac was Abraham’s son by Sarah and God appeared to him to confirm his pledge to Abraham. “ Isaac went on to Beersheba, where the LORD appeared to him that night and told him, "Don't be afraid! I am the God who was worshiped by your father Abraham, my servant. I will be with you and bless you, and because of Abraham I will give you many descendants." (Gen. 26:23-24)

4. Jacob.

When Jacob fled from the wrath of Esau he went to Haran to give Esau time to cool off. On the way he stopped for the night. “At sunset he stopped for the night and went to sleep, resting his head on a large rock. In a dream he saw a ladder that reached from earth to heaven, and God's angels were going up and down on it. The LORD was standing beside the ladder and said: I am the LORD God who was worshiped by Abraham and Isaac. I will give to you and your family the land on which you are now sleeping. Your descendants will spread over the earth in all directions and will become as numerous as the specks of dust. Your family will be a blessing to all people. Wherever you go, I will watch over you, then later I will bring you back to this land. I won't leave you--I will do all I have promised. Jacob woke up suddenly and thought, "The LORD is in this place, and I didn't even know it." Then Jacob became frightened and said, "This is a fearsome place! It must be the house of God and the ladder to heaven." (Genesis 28:11-17)

Jacob was not exactly into religious experience before this happened. But it was a transforming moment for him. After many years of serving Laban the Lord appears again to Jacob:
“One day the LORD said, "Jacob, go back to your relatives in the land of your ancestors, and I will bless you." (Gen.31:3) He returned and Esau’s hatred of Jacob had by this time cooled.

5. Moses

There is a lot of interaction between God and Moses. Moses is given the seemingly impossible task of delivering the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. The 400 years that Abraham was told his progeny would be enslaved is over and deliverance is now coming. Moses is reluctant, but God overcame his reluctance and he went. The presence of God is seen in the directions God gave to Moses and Aaron and also in the mighty deeds he empowered them to do. In many verses the words appear, “the Lord told Moses,” etc.

6. Sinai

At Sinai the Lord appears to all the people in a great cloud of fire and they are scared to death.
Not only did God give instructions on how to live, but he accompanied them to the promised land. He was with them all the way. “ During the day the LORD went ahead of his people in a thick cloud, and during the night he went ahead of them in a flaming fire. That way the LORD could lead them at all times, whether day or night.” (Exodus 13:21-22)

7. After the tabernacle was built it became the Tent of God’s presence. The presence of the Lord with the people shows God’s desire to relate to his people.

“You and your descendants must always offer this sacrifice on the altar at the entrance to the sacred tent. People of Israel, I will meet and speak with you there, and my shining glory will make the place holy. Because of who I am, the tent will become sacred, and Aaron and his sons will become worthy to serve as my priests. I will live among you as your God, and you will know that I am the LORD your God, the one who rescued you from Egypt, so that I could live among you.” (Exodus 29:42-46)

The Tent was portable for the people on the move in the desert going to the new land.
“ Moses used to set up a tent far from camp. He called it the "meeting tent," and whoever needed some message from the LORD would go there. Each time Moses went out to the tent, everyone would stand at the entrance to their own tents and watch him enter. Then they would bow down because a thick cloud would come down in front of the tent, and the LORD would speak to Moses face to face, just like a friend. (Exodus 33:7-9)

God was with the people all the way to the new land. The tent or tabernacle as it was known served for many years until Solomon’s temple was finished after the reign of King David.
When it was finished, the Ark of Covenant was transferred from the Tabernacle to the Temple and we read these words: “Suddenly a cloud filled the temple as the priests were leaving the most holy place. The LORD's glory was in the cloud, and the light from it was so bright that the priests could not stay inside to do their work. Then Solomon prayed: "Our LORD, you said that you would live in a dark cloud. Now I have built a glorious temple where you can live forever." (I Kings 8:10-13)

The presence of the Lord at the temple affirms the closeness of God to humans.

David ruled before Solomon and God made a promise to David which needs explanation.
David is told by God, “ I will make sure that one of your descendants will always be king.” (2 Sam.7:16) There is no king in Israel today and there has not been one in a couple of millenia.
The phrase, “always be king” is related to Jesus, the son of David, who is the heir of David. The kingdom of God as preached in the Gospels and the resurrection are the fulfillment of this awesome promise.

8. Prophets

There are many prophets in the Old Testament, these were people through whom God spoke on various occasions. They warned the sinful kings of Israel and Judah, they denounced the sins of the people in terms of their idolatry. They were given words of warning to their present generation, but also wonderful words concerning the future. In this category are the words concerning the coming Messiah of Israel that would bless the whole world. His birth place is foretold as well as the character of his life. His death is described long before he came.


“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

But the LORD will still give you proof. A virgin is pregnant; she will have a son and will name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

“A child has been born for us. We have been given a son who will be our ruler. His names will be Wonderful Advisor and Mighty God, Eternal Father and Prince of Peace.
His power will never end; peace will last forever. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

“Has anyone believed us or seen the mighty power of the LORD in action?
Like a young plant or a root that sprouts in dry ground, the servant grew up obeying the LORD. He wasn't some handsome king. Nothing about the way he looked made him attractive to us.
He was hated and rejected; his life was filled with sorrow and terrible suffering. No one wanted to look at him. We despised him and said, "He is a nobody!" He suffered and endured great pain for us, but we thought his suffering was punishment from God. He was wounded and crushed because of our sins; by taking our punishment, he made us completely well.
All of us were like sheep that had wandered off. We had each gone our own way, but the LORD gave him the punishment we deserved. He was painfully abused, but he did not complain. He was silent like a lamb being led to the butcher, as quiet as a sheep having its wool cut off.
He was condemned to death without a fair trial. Who could have imagined what would happen to him? His life was taken away because of the sinful things my people had done. He wasn't dishonest or violent, but he was buried in a tomb of cruel and rich people. The LORD decided his servant would suffer as a sacrifice to take away the sin and guilt of others. Now the servant will live to see his own descendants. He did everything the LORD had planned. By suffering, the servant will learn the true meaning of obeying the LORD. Although he is innocent, he will take the punishment for the sins of others, so that many of them will no longer be guilty. The LORD will reward him with honor and power for sacrificing his life. Others thought he was a sinner, but he suffered for our sins and asked God to forgive us. (Isaiah 53:1-12)

“Bethlehem Ephrath, you are one of the smallest towns in the nation of Judah. But the LORD will choose one of your people to rule the nation-- someone whose family goes back to ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

“I, the LORD All-Powerful, will send my messenger to prepare the way for me. Then suddenly the Lord you are looking for will appear in his temple. The messenger you desire is coming with my promise, and he is on his way.” (Malachi 3:1)

9. The Incarnation

The closeness of God becomes greater in the unbelievable event of the Incarnation of God in Jesus the Christ. There is an anticipation of the idea of the incarnation in the story of the three “men” who appeared to Abraham. Two angels are identified and then the third person is “the Lord.” God has done lots of different things in revealing to humanity that He cares about us and wants to have a relationship with us.

In the Incarnation, God assuming human flesh, we have Jesus telling us what God is really like. The Sermon on the Mount gives an indication of the real meaning of the Ten Commandments at Sinai. Jesus cuts thru the human traditions that were built up by the rabbis over the previous centuries before Jesus. The message comes through clearly that we are to love God with all of our heart, and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Loving is not to be confused with liking. Loving means we regard other people as truly human and worthy of concern. Wherever there is a need and one can help, it should be done.

In the appearance of Jesus as the Son of God he did some things for us that make our lives qualitatively different than before. In his death and resurrection he established the New Covenant which has great promises in it.

“During the meal Jesus took some bread in his hands. He blessed the bread and broke it. Then he gave it to his disciples and said, "Take this and eat it. This is my body." Jesus picked up a cup of wine and gave thanks to God. He then gave it to his disciples and said, "Take this and drink it. This is my blood, and with it God makes his agreement with you. It will be poured out, so that many people will have their sins forgiven. From now on I am not going to drink any wine, until I drink new wine with you in my Father's kingdom." (Matthew 26:26-29)

He gave his life that we might have eternal life now. His death guarantees the forgiveness of our sins, and in the New Covenant there is the hope of life everlasting in the Father’s kingdom.

The disciples saw and heard Jesus, but we do not have that experience. What does the nearness of God mean for us today. We can look at the words of Jesus relating to them and us.

“Jesus said to his disciples: If you love me, you will do as I command. Then I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you. The Spirit will show you what is true. The people of this world cannot accept the Spirit, because they don't see or know him. But you know the Spirit, who is with you and will keep on living in you.” (John 14:16-17)

“I have told you these things while I am still with you. But the Holy Spirit will come and help you, because the Father will send the Spirit to take my place. The Spirit will teach you everything and will remind you of what I said while I was with you. I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn't like the peace that this world can give. So don't be worried or afraid. “ (John 14:25-27)

“But I tell you that I am going to do what is best for you. That is why I am going away. The Holy Spirit cannot come to help you until I leave. But after I am gone, I will send the Spirit to you. The Spirit will come and show the people of this world the truth about sin and God's justice and the judgment. The Spirit will show them that they are wrong about sin, because they didn't have faith in me.” (John 16:7-9)

There is no disadvantage of not having lived in the days of Jesus. The real issue in any time frame is faith or unfaith. By faith and commitment to Jesus we have the gift of His Spirit in our lives. In this sense of faith we are contemporaries with Jesus. The time sequence does not make any difference. Paul wrote of this to the church at Corinth:

“All of you surely know that you are God's temple and that his Spirit lives in you.” (I Cor. 3:16)
“ You surely know that your body is a temple where the Holy Spirit lives. The Spirit is in you and is a gift from God. You are no longer your own.” (I Cor.6:19)

The closeness or nearness of God comes now to our bodies and souls. Whereas God once was near to people in the Temple, now destroyed, He dwells within the believer who commits his life to Jesus Christ. The Temple was quite localized in Jerusalem and one could go there to worship and seek God. Now the Spirit of God is available to any person who is a follower of Jesus Christ. Spatial limitations do not exist for receiving the Spirit of Jesus. By commitment of our lives to Jesus we have the gift of His Spirit, now and forever more.

If God seems so far away the Scripture gives you much hope. The words of the Lord recorded in Jeremiah are these: “You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart,” (Jeremiah 29:13 RSV)