A Theology of Nearness

One thing that had imprinted on my brain since early childhood was a Sesame Street lesson where Grover teaches the difference between “Near” and “Far”.  Every young child can relate to the physical distance and separation from their parents to whom they have clung since birth.  It is visceral, and we don’t even have to think about it.  As we grow up and develop a sense of independence, we lose those instincts/impulses of separation anxiety and feel secure that the world will not end just because we are alone anymore.  

And yet, the greater the separation, the more we sense a tension in the relationship.  For example, my son recently was deciding between which colleges he might attend, some were on the west coast and some much closer (driving distance).  My wife and I felt a deep sense of potential loss if he ended up choosing to go far (thankfully he didn’t!) because we knew the barrier to see him would be greater – a plane ticket, duration of travel, time zone difference, etc.  Relationships are somehow linked to how near and far we are from each other.  

So it is with God – in Psalm 73, the psalmist is clearly going through a difficult struggle with many enemies and human instincts towards them – injustice, contempt, why me?  (vv1-16).  But starting in v17, “till I entered the sanctuary of God”, the light switch goes on, perspective changes (not circumstances), by being near to God, it changes everything. Remember that God is everywhere – He is always near (Psalm 139 – “where could I go from your Spirit?”) – it is we who are not mindful-dare I say-we ignore Him.

Those who are far from you will perish;
     you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
     I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.  (Psalm 73:27-28)

How can we be near to God?  Think about Him – devote yourself to time in His Word (Psalm 1:2 “but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”) – take time to pray.  Throughout your day, develop a habit to “face God” by acknowledging that He is right there in whatever situation you are in – rejoicing with you and grieving with you.  If you are working, consider throughout the day the Lord’s presence in how you are working- with integrity, aplomb, and as salt and light bearing witness to others “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).  Similarly, when you are with friends and family, consider the Lord’s presence in what and how you say things to each other.  And when you are alone, consider the Lord’s presence in how you use your time, not as Big Brother, but as the Savior who redeemed you “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).  Brothers and sisters, I encourage you to cultivate a theology of the nearness of God in your life so that, to paraphrase Charles Spurgeon, your faith will not only bring your soul to heaven, but bring a glimpse of heaven to your soul.

John Chung serves as an Elder at GRC.