January 31, 2010 by

Sunday Meditations: No Escape


Categories: Sunday meditations

Ps. 139:7-12 (NASB):

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, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will leade me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.

I’ve always found this passage, and indeed the entire Psalm, to be very comforting and encouraging. At the same time, the theology in some of it is apt to baffle some evangelicals. “If I make my bed in Sheol [the Hebrew understanding of hell, the underworld], You are there.” What? Isn’t hell supposed to be the total absence of God??

I’ve actually speculated about this in other posts, and I won’t do it again here. But what I take as a powerful meaning from these verses is that God doesn’t take a break from us. In our Christianized churchy subculture, we too often get the idea that in order to connect with God, we have to separate ourselves, get totally isolated from the world around us, shut off all external noise, and get “spiritual.” The “clergy” are often the objects of jealousy by the “laity” because they have more time to do the spiritual stuff that brings us closer to God. (I put clergy and laity in quotes because neither is a Biblical concept.) As a pastor, more than once I was told by members of my congregation that they believed following Jesus was easier for me because as a full-time minister, I had the time to focus on “spiritual” activities like prayer and Bible study while everyone else worked for a living.

Pardon me while I go in the other room and laugh my head off. BRB…

The thing is, this mindset really comes more from Greek philosophy than it does from the Bible. Wasn’t it Plato who taught that the spirit world was good and the natural world was evil? Isn’t that the heart of gnosticism? (It is, actually–those were rhetorical questions.)

But that line of thinking actually flies in the face of Ps. 139. Hell, (pun intended) if we can’t escape His presence in Hades itself, what makes us think we have to get all separated from our natural existence in order to meet Him? Not that there’s not a time to get alone with God–even Jesus did that–but to think that somehow He isn’t near us except when we do that. Sometimes we might need that, just to refocus and regroup. But HE doesn’t really need that from us. What God longs for is just a heart that is turned toward Him, and consequently is aware of His nearness right there in the natural world.

As a worshiper, I used to treat God’s presence as this skittish, almost-fragile spiritual dynamic that was so easily grieved that when we felt His presence, we must be very, very careful, or He would flee away, like a timid wild animal. What rubbish that was; I mean, really. To be so wary of somehow scaring God off that we couldn’t even enjoy it when He was kind enough to manifest Himself in our midst. His presence isn’t rare or skittish; in fact…we can’t escape His presence.

And here’s the part that really rattles religious cages. He isn’t just there when people are seeking Him. He might make His presence known in those places, but He’s there whether or not we sense Him. He is present in the darkest alleys. He’s there watching the drug deals and the prostitutes. He’s in the sleazy dives. We cannot escape His presence. We’ve just conditioned ourselves to look for Him in certain places and not in others.

I guess personally I’m just at this place where I want to know Jesus in my everydays. I take great comfort in knowing that He didn’t walk out of the room when I said “Amen”–nor did He just walk into the room when I shut out the world. I’ve come to hear His voice in the simplest of ways–through something that came over the radio, or on the news, or in a conversation, or just walking from point A to point B. I guess I’ve come to believe it’s actually more spiritual of me to be able to engage God in any situation, not just in controlled, sterile environments–to be acutely aware that God is big enough, and great enough, that His hand can and does lead us in the brightest of days and the darkest of nights–through the sweetest moments of fellowship, and the depths of depression.

Think about that; meditate on it. We cannot escape His presence.

There is no escape. And that’s a good thing.

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

4 Responses to Sunday Meditations: No Escape

  1. Al

    Good words, Jeff.

    It's wonderful to realize that he is in the dark places. He is there before we get there, he is there affecting people through us, and he is still there after we leave.

    It's always a great surprise and thrill to discover what he has already been doing when we go somewhere to 'bring Jesus' to some place we think he isn't.

    Even in a church that we think isn
    't on the right track.

  2. Erin

    Personally I learned it the hard way, but you are absolutely right. I found that even while running away or deliberately trying to make God leave me…I couldn't make him go anywhere.

    This realization brought me to a place of understanding that he doesn't come and go, he's here all the time. It's contrary to what I've learned at church services where we "invite the presence of God" indicating somehow that he wasn't there until we invited him.

  3. James

    Nailed another one, Jeff. I can't tell you how many times (and for how long) I felt like God's nearness was dependent on my focus on him (or lack thereof). It's good to "be still" and listen to Him, but we ought not feel like that's a requirement. And as far as "praise music" is concerned, I've often felt closer to him during a heavy Switchfoot song than during a soft Michael W Smith one, which sort of shoots down the whole "be still" dynamic.

  4. Randi Jo :)

    very true. I do believe you're right, that God is with us always, everywhere —- don't see in the Bible anything that debates that (though I'm not Bible expert).

    at the same time, I do acknowledge how 'un-spiritual' I am and I do find that it is really important for me to "go to the closet" (matthew 6) and intentionally take time to quiet myself to listen and focus. otherwise so much fills up the day/my time….. so before that happens, good to make it a habit/priority…or at least be intentional about having that 'quiet time'….

    but how that looks can also just depend on personality too though I believe… planners vs. more phlegmatic types…

    BUT I'm rambling as usual — my point though is that we should never the quiet time is the *only* time God "is there" — but instead it's a time, for our own good, to help train ourself to be able to "tune in"

    the frequency is always there (Him)… we just need discipline/habit ("being spiritaully in tune") to be able to be tuned in to His frequency whenever, wherever….

    but since the majority of us are so go go go go go busy…. it's important to guard our heart and time in that way to be calm/relaxed/still/quiet.

    Also – seems a bit obvious that God is always with us because His Spirit is in us — so why would He not be? The Spirit doesn't leave – do people think the Spirit does leave us?

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