The familiar phrase, “Far away and long ago” begins many of our favorite children’s stories. When the storyline starts that way child and parent alike come to understand that they are in for a journey full of twists and turns, highs and lows, and in the end good triumphs over evil. For many that is just exactly how they view God and the scriptures. As we sit here celebrating Fat Tuesday and preparing for Ash Wednesday there will be those who will be considering that very phrase – far away and long ago.
One of the Bibles greatest writers, David makes an interesting observation in the second verse of Psalm 139: “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away” (NRSV). I never gave the phrase “far away” much thought but what does it mean here? Is God ever really far away? Well, we know God is everywhere – we learn that in Sunday School and children’s church. David even says as much later in the same Psalm:
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can 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 settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10 NRSV)
But sooner or later we encounter one of the great mysteries of the universe… we realize that “God’s presence” can mean different things. Back in high school and college, when someone in a prayer group would pray for someone and say, “Lord, be with her,” I thought it was a pointless prayer, because after all, “God is everywhere”, right? Now I realize how powerful that can prayer can be. However, I try not to use that phrase in prayer because it’s so easily misunderstood by people who haven’t yet worked through the concept of multiple levels of the presence of God.
On some level, God is everywhere. Yet we still pray, “Come, Holy Spirit.” Christians have the indwelling Holy Spirit inside them from the moment they have faith in Christ. Many Christians say that the Holy Spirit is present at a different level in someone’s life after they are baptized as an infant or child, even if they haven’t yet reached a point of personal decision. But we pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit anyway.
That’s because we want more than just the “omnipresent” presence of God. We even want more than the” indwelling” presence of God that we get when we’re Christians. We want the manifest presence of God. At that level, there is really no distance that matters anymore.
Ephesians 2:13 says, “But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (CEB, emphasis mine). During Advent and Christmas, we don’t typically think ahead to what happened on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But we have to look at the big picture. God came near, then he brought us near.
Prayer: Corrie ten Boom
You know me, Lord—me! What a security. Amen.