There’s an old joke that I first heard in the movie “The Dead Poet’s Society” – it goes something like this: “We’re not laughing at you. We’re laughing near you.” Ha-ha. Got it.
There is a difference between being “near” something and “at” it, right on top of it, inside it, sharing the same space. I’ve been meditating on this difference lately. It might seem like splitting hairs to others but the gap between “near” and “here” gets bigger the more I think about it. Especially when it comes to God. See if you can jump on this train of thought with me.
In the Bible I see an awful lot of God working very, very hard to draw near to us. He speaks through prophets, shows up in burning bushes, drops manna from heaven, weeps and wails and woos His people over and over again. He even comes as a human being to walk our earth, share our space, eat our food, feel our pain. He comes so near that we humans – dare we even think the thought! – could reach out and touch Him. Amazing.
But near isn’t nearly near enough, is it? You can be near all kinds of things and all kinds of people and never be affected. I can be near plenty of people and feel completely alone all at the same time. I’ve done it. I actually revel in it sometimes. It’s part of my attraction to cities and crowds and the hustle and bustle of downtown. I can be in the middle of a huge amount of activity and yet be completely anonymous. Plenty of folks do that in our church, too – the downside of a large congregation. People do it all the time.
I’ve been near my husband for more than 20 years. Being incredibly near him for a long time helps me understand the way he thinks, share his experiences, pick up his mannerisms. But the sense of closeness ebbs and flows depending on schedules, hormones, the alignment of the planets and all sorts of things he and I can’t control. Our “nearness” to each other waxes and wanes. It’s so very good and so very precious, but also temporary. It cannot last forever. And it cannot fix what is deeply broken in me or him.
God knows that. He knew all along that coming near would be very, very good but not ultimately what was best for us. Jesus said His nearness in human form was not as good as what He would send when He went back to Heaven. (John 16:7) As a man, Jesus could die for our sins and bring us near to God. That changes our standing before Him. Jesus’ teaching might even change our minds. But it’s our hearts that really need the makeover, isn’t it? No, everything that Jesus did to bring us near to God wouldn’t quite get the job done.
We need God to be more than near. We need Him HERE.
I’m coming to appreciate more and more the implications of having God the Holy Spirit inside of me, filling my bones, taking every breath with me. Instead of an image of Him as Holy Stalker hovering around me or Him riding shotgun on my way to work, I’m beginning to see Him as the oxygen in my spiritual red blood cells, the power that moves my diaphragm and my lungs to inhale – exhale – inhale – exhale. He sees what I see through the same filters, with my same experiences in His view. He hears my thoughts and speaks His own into my brain. He dreams my dreams, and dreams His for me. He shapes the words coming out of my mouth and flexes my spiritual muscles. He’s not just near me…He’s HERE with me.
Is that a scary thought to you? It’s a comfort for me.
The nearness of God makes Him my friend, my confidant, the Lover of my Soul. But it also makes Him external, an Other, and implies that I can be near or far from Him. He might be within reach or within the sound of my voice, depending on what I do or don’t do or how I might offend Him or whatever.
But if He’s HERE…
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:7-10 NIV)
The here-ness of God means He has absolute perfect compassion for me. He gets the thought process that led me to make this or that decision, take this or that action. He knows the exact point I went off the rails and exactly how to get me back on them. He sees people through my eyes and then share His view of them with me. He hears the rhythm of my beating and bleeding heart, and with perfect timing stitches and mends and even breaks what needs it to get it closer to beating in time with His own. No amount of nearness can ever do that.
So I’m trying to sense the here-ness of God more than I’m looking for ways He’s drawing me near to Him. Sure, He does both. He’s big enough for that. I’m not diminishing anything that Jesus does or has done for me in coming near and bringing me close to God. That nearness gives me hope for the eternal and bright future I have with Him.
But it’s His here-ness that gives me hope right where I am.
What about you? What does it mean to you that God is closer than near – that He’s HERE?