Introduction To Book Five – Divine Communion
Ron Christian, Compiler
Throughout the Holy Scriptures there are two 'pictures' of God. God is pictured as the High and Lofty and Majestic One. God is also pictured as the Personal and Intimate One. Both are valid pictures of God and each picture is needed to balance the other. To think of God in His transcendence is to be filled with awe, reverence, and 'holy' fear. To think of God in His immanence is to be filled with courage, joy, and purpose.
'Transcendence' means that which surpasses physical reality; that which is beyond man's comprehension. It is a common fact that there are many things in the physical realm that are beyond man's understanding. We can't fully comprehend the vastness of the universe. We can't fully understand the human mind or soul. We can't fully comprehend the happenings around us – many of which are full of 'mystery' and 'perplexities'. If we can't understand these things, it is certain that we mere humans cannot fully comprehend Almighty God! His 'ways' are past finding out. His ways are higher than our ways, as high as the heavens are above the earth! However, simply because we cannot understand God, does not make God any less real. Because an ant cannot understand Einstein's Law of Relativity (and most men cannot), does that fact make his Law any less a reality? God is in a realm beyond man's capacity to understand. "God is Creator and we are but the created. Shall the created one complain if he does not understand all the mind of the Creator?" (Stand Up In Praise To God; Paul Rees; pg. 19)
God is different than man, so different that it is difficult to even compare man with God. God is the Eternal Creator, while man the creature is confined by the limitations of time. God is the High and Lofty One (Isaiah 57:15; Psalm 29:4; Psalm 93:1). God is above all things, and all things belong to Him (1 Chronicles 29:11). God is all-powerful (Isaiah 40:12, Isaiah 40:15). God's name is Holy (Isaiah 57:15). None can be likened unto God or be His equal (Exodus 15:11). Man's encounter with the Holy One naturally creates reverential fear (Genesis 28:16-17; Exodus 3:2-6; Isaiah 6:1-6; Revelation 15:4).
The Christian believes that God is objectively real and distinct from the universe. The created presupposes the Creator who is over and above the creation.
While the Christian acknowledges God's holiness, loftiness, and majesty, the Christian's knowledge of God is found in other ways than through the transcendent qualities of Almighty God. "The Hebraic-Christian knowledge of God is not knowledge of God in his transcendent 'otherness' (which is plainly impossible to man's finite spirit), but in his active nearness, as it is experienced in nature and history and in the inmost shrine of the individual soul. The most high God, though transcending his creation and abiding in his holy heaven, is nevertheless nigh unto men." (Christian Doctrine; Whale; pg. 113)
The Christian acknowledges God's transcendence, but the Christian never entertains an idea of God as cold, disinterested, or detached from human activity. The Christian acknowledges the difficulty of comprehending how God can be personally interested in every person's problems, and how God can simultaneously bear every man's prayers. However, it is because the Christian does not mold God into some type of superhuman man, but instead acknowledges God as supra-human (beyond human categories), that the Christian is able to accept the concept of God's total and personal involvement in the 'human situation'.
God is everywhere present in His world. "I can never be lost to your Spirit! I can never get away from my God! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, you are there. If I ride the morning winds to the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, your strength will support me. If I try to hide in the darkness, the night becomes light around me. For even darkness cannot hide from God; to you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are both alike to you." (Psalms 139:7-12 , Living Bible) "Tell me where is God", said an atheist to a child. "I will", said the child, "if you will tell me where He is not."
Far from God being detached and disinterested in man, God is always taking the initiative in seeking man. There is a story of a woman who was trying to find God. "She had a certain dream which she dreamed more than once, namely, that she was standing in front of a thick, plate glass window. As she looked at it, she seemed to see God on the other side. She hammered on the window, trying to attract His attention, but without success. She grew more and more desperate, and began to call to Him and found herself shrieking at the top of her voice. And then a quiet, calm voice at her side said: 'Why are you making so much noise? There is nothing between us'. Perhaps that illustrates our difficulty, does it not? We have been thinking all along that God was somewhere far away, unapproachable… some place that was difficult of access… and we have been groping around for a long time, and all the while He is standing beside us." (Mr. Jones, Meet the Master; Peter Marshall; pg. 131)
The God who is the Lofty One is also the God who is the Immanent One – the One who is pleased to dwell with the man that is contrite and humble. The Majestic God is the Merciful God – the God who "revives the spirit of the humble" (Isaiah 57:15). God gives strength to the weak. "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" (Isaiah 40:29-31)
The greatest of all revelations is the revelation that God is a personal God, that He is personally concerned in every person who has ever lived or who will ever live! God
wants to be a personal friend of man! God treats every individual in a personable and friendly way! He loves each person in the world as if there was only one person in the world to love! He counts the hair on each person's head! "A community canvass was being made. At a certain door the questioner asked the woman who answered his knock what children she had. She began, 'Well, there's Willie, and Horace'. But the canvasser interrupted, 'Never mind names, I just want numbers.' Then she grew impatient and a bit indignant. 'They haven't got numbers', she protested. 'Every one of them's got a name.' Quite so! They were her children. She was their mother. They had personalities that spoke with all the eloquence of their individual characteristics. She knew them not by number but by name. So God looks upon His human creatures. Why, according to Isaiah He calls even the stars by names." (Stand Up In Praise To God; Paul Rees; pgs. 23, 24) God knows all things that are going on in His world. "For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings." (Job 34:21) God knows the 'John Doe' on the street corner, with all his problems and frustrations. God has an infinite concern for him!
A healthy concept of God takes into account both God's transcendence and God's immanence. God's transcendence will keep us from becoming too intimate or 'familiar' with Almighty God. It is nothing less than blasphemy to describe God as 'the Man upstairs'! No human being is to 'buddy' with the High and Holy One! On the other hand, Jesus taught His followers to call God 'Abba' (Father)! God, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, is closer to man than his hands and feet and breathing! God's 'immanence' (closeness) guarantees faith and courage, and gives comfort in the face of life's many conflicts and calamities. True worship of God will always combine these two aspects of God transcendence and immanence. The following incident illustrates this healthy combination, the combination of God's Majesty and God's Intimacy. "Joseph Twitchell tells how he went to visit Horace Bushnell when Bushnell was an old man. At night Bushnell took him out for a walk on the hillside. As they walked in the dark, suddenly Bushnell said, 'Let us kneel and pray', and so he prayed. Twitchell, telling of it afterwards, said, 'I was afraid to stretch out my hand in the darkness in case I should touch God. (Daily Study Bible; Corinthians; William Barclay; pg. 148) Here there was the intimate nearness of God and also the awesome transcendence of God. Both must be acknowledged and nurtured in the life of the true believer.
To repeat what was earlier stated: "Knowledge of God is not knowledge of God in his transcendent 'otherness' (which is plainly impossible to man's finite spirit), but in his active nearness, as it is experienced in nature and history and in the inmost shrine of the individual soul." Before a human can experience any personal fellowship with God, he must affirm the fact of God's Omni-presence, Said John Wesley, "True, our narrow understanding but imperfectly comprehends this. But as Be created and sustains all things, He is present at all time, in all places."
The Christian who takes seriously the Christian doctrine or the 'Omni-presence or God' is the Christian who 'practices the presence of God' in his life, by meditating often on the power and the love of God and by praying often throughout his everyday routine. Susanna Wesley believed that it was important to recognize that God is not confined to 'the closet' (of secret prayer during one's regular devotional period), but that God is everywhere and that He can be loved and worshiped (during the multitude of daily household tasks). Later in her life Susanna prayed, "Help me, Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church, or closet, nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I am in Thy presence," This is 'incarnational Christianity' – recognizing that the God who incarnated Himself in human flesh through Jesus Christ is the God who continues to be intimately involved in all of man's activities and relationships! Many years ago Ruth Graham (the wife of the famous evangelist Billy Graham) advocated this type of praying throughout the entire day. As a busy housewife she said that she did not have time to get down on her knees often. She admitted that she did most of her praying "on the hoof". She then said: "But to know that you can wash dishes, iron, clean, shop, drive, and in whatever you have to do, Jesus Christ is there beside you, urging you to talk over your problems with him – that is a joy and a comfort it is impossible to describe." (Alive To God Through Prayer; Donald Demaray; pg. 89) Frank Laubach, the famous Christian who brought literacy to millions of persons throughout the world, 'practiced the presence of God' in his life in amazing and wonderful ways. He learned regularly to commune with God as he carried on a most active and productive ministry. He developed the skill of listening to God speak. to him while he worked. On March 11, 1937, while he was working on a literacy plan for the Urdu Dihate Indian dialect, he wrote, "Of all today's miracles, the greatest is this: To know that I find Thee best when I work listening, not when I am still or meditative or even on my knees in prayer, but when I work listening and co-operating." (Streams of Living Water; Richard Foster; pg.44)
The phrase 'Practicing the Presence of God' was made popular by Brother Lawrence (Nicholas Herman) who wrote a 'spiritual classic' by this title. This man who lived in the seventeenth century (1611-1691) worked as a cook in his Discalced ("barefooted") Carmelite community. Be wrote, "For me the time of action does not differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are together calling for as many different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as when upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament… I made this my business, as much all the day long as at the appointed times of prayer; or at all times, every hour, every minute, even in the height of my business, I drove away from my mind everything that was capable of interrupting my thought of God… When we are faithful to keep ourselves in His holy Presence, and set Him always before US; this not only hinders our offending Him, and doing anything that may displease Him, at least willfully, but it also begets in us a holy freedom, and if I may so speak, a familiarity with God, wherewith we ask, and that successfully, the graces we stand in need of. In fine, by often repeating these acts, they become habitual, and the presence of God is rendered as it were natural to
us… There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God: those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it: yet I do not advise you to do it from that motive; it is not pleasure which we ought to seek in this exercise; but let us do it from a principle of love, and because God would have us… He requires no great matters of us; a little remembrance of Him from time to time, a little adoration: sometimes to pray for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, and sometimes to return Him thanks for the favors He has given you, and still gives you, in the midst of your troubles, and to console yourself with Him the oftenest you can. Lift up your heart to Him, sometimes even at your meals, and when you are in company: the least little remembrance will always be acceptable to Him. You need not cry very loud; He is nearer to us than we are aware of." (The Christian Reader, Inspirational and Devotional Classics; compiled and edited by Stanley Irving Stuber; pgs.288,293-295)
Lord of all being! Throned afar, Thy glory Dames from sun and star; Center and soul of every sphere, Yet to each loving heart how near!
Sun of our life, thy quickening ray Sheds on our path the glow of day; Star of our hope, thy softened light Cheers the long watches of the night.
Lord of all life, below, above, Whose light is truth, whose warmth is love, Before thy ever-blazing throne We ask no luster of our own.
Grant us thy truth to make us free, And kindling hearts that burn for thee, Till all thy living altars claim One holy light, one heavenly Dame.
Oliver W. Holmes