When leaving a certain hospital at the end of a kindly visit, a consultation, a treatment or surgery on arriving at the Exit there stands a reassuring caption in capital letters “GOD BE WITH YOU”. At the farewell service in the village chapel before I left for South Africa the congregation joined hands and sang ‘God be with you ‘til we meet again’. If we are asked to pray for someone absent we ask God to ‘Please, be with them’. When we come together in worship, fellowship, or study, we often begin by asking God to be with us. Offered as a farewell, or prayer, though utterly sincere, customary and acceptable – it is something of a misnomer.
The raw truth is, God is always present with us. God is there every moment in every situation, but in our preoccupation we forget it, or do not realize it, or, determined to do as we please, we choose to ignore it. Every beat of the heart, every breath we take is the pulsating evidence of God’s activity. No matter where we go, or what we do, or think, or say we cannot escape the reality of God’s presence day and night. Looking at the heavens and all around him Einstein’s comment was, “Everything is a miracle!”
It is the everlasting and staggering truth revealed in scripture that the incomprehensible, indescribable, unimaginable Being we call God, without whose creative, active presence nothing whatsoever would be, cares for all his creatures and seeks to be on intimate terms with us mortal beings. More astonishing is God’s encompassing Love, enveloping one’s whole being, embracing us and giving, and never stops giving though we do not deserve it and cannot do anything to earn it. God is more than our Creator and Benefactor, he is our very being, as Paul said ‘In him we live and move and have our being’, whether we realize it or not.
To be with God requires no special ability, or apparatus. No down payment, deposit, access fee, or certification is required. For the reality of God’s presence to be realized the open secret is to be open, aware, awake, attentive, taking a moment to be still and listen. God says ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Ps.46:10).
Now let us place all this into the cauldron of our twenty first century a bubbling mixture of achievement and conflict. The world around us is in continuous flux, nation against nation. Birth, life, change, decay in a multitude of life-forms, and the wider universe of constellations slowly evolving and God is in the process. We humans are the most developed species on the planet interdependent on all creation. Our existence is part of the miracle. We are multi-layered. In her epic, prophetic book, ‘Call it Grace’, Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary, uses the teaching of John Calvin, to describe the layers. ‘The first layer is beautiful….we are remarkable creatures, capable of great love and stunning feats of intellect and invention. We see beauty around us and create art that captures the largeness of our imagination. The second layer however, shows we are also the opposite of this. We are fragile and fearful creatures….we are strangely drawn toward things that are not good for us, evil things. For reasons we never grasp, we refuse our marvellous nature and turn our energies toward harmful endeavours of endless variety…..The word for this is “sin”.’ Personal, social and systemic.
This is the theatre of wonders, crisis and catastrophes in which we live each day. The scene and actors change, but human activity continues on a fascinating, perplexing, volatile, violent, frightening scale blinding us to the Producer and Owner of all creation who is present amid all the chaos, the suffering, the uncertainty, the constant changes. Within the evolving complexity there is a certainty – God is in the midst. God does not stay distant from us, watching, uncaring. God is involved, ready to do new things with us through the inexhaustible workings of his grace, which is our life blood.
To ask for his presence is like asking for the sun while standing in the sunshine. If you want to feel his presence put your finger on your pulse and listen to your breathing. If you want to see it, look in the mirror, despite the opposing layers described by Calvin, you are God’s child. On waking open your eyes to God’s silent gift of light. When closing them before sleep offer a silent word of gratitude. Continue to pray “Please God be with….”, it can initiate an awareness, or a discovery of a continuous reality. He already is!