The Presence of God

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Welcome to another post in my Praise and Prose series, which looks at how the way in which we use language — especially in matters of faith and spirituality — might develop in order to better reflect the ultimate truth of God’s sovereignty over all events.

Charismatic Christians often discuss their yearning for what they describe as ‘the presence of God’. They will utter phrases such as, ‘Did you experience the presence of God?’ or ‘In that church service, I was soaked in God’s presence’. In this post, I would just like to offer a few reflections on such statements, in line with my objectives for this Praise and Prose series, as described above.

As part of my spiritual journey, I spent some time considering the answers to two important theological questions. These questions are ‘What is God?’ and ‘Where is God?’. These are questions that even theologically inclined Christians don’t tend to consider all that often (at least, in my experience).

Considering these questions deeply led me to an understanding of the boundlessness of God, and I came to believe that God is everywhere, or omnipresent. This subsequently became one of the fundamental aspects of my worldview, and I was forced to consider issues such as free will, divine judgement, and sin, in light of what I had discovered (but these are topics for another day).

It should be obvious to readers that a certain tension arises when we consider phrases that imply God’s presence comes and goes in relation to an understanding of God’s omnipresence. Logically, if God is omnipresent, then His presence is everywhere all of the time. So why do Christians talk about being in — or not in— the presence of God, in the way I have exemplified above?

I believe the way in which these charismatic Christians use language is in error. What they are referring to when they talk about stepping into the presence of God, or being soaked in God’s presence, is actually a feeling of expansive peace and assurance, perhaps joy, which is often the result of being in a praise and worship setting, or deep in prayer.

It would be more true to say “I experienced great joy from the Lord” or “God overwhelmed me with a feeling of peace” rather than the logically problematic statement “I was saturated by God’s presence“. Another way of describing the experience would be — rather than saying “I felt God’s presence” — instead to say, “I felt more aware of God’s existence”.

God’s presence is not something that comes and goes. It is everywhere and in equal measure, all of the time. While our spiritual experiences might change, the presence of God does not.

I hope that readers will understand the logical distinction I am trying to make, and recognise my good intentions with highlighting the linguistic error. My intention is that by examining the language we use around matters of faith and spirituality, we can be more truthful in our utterances, and this will give them more weight when we are engaged in philosophical and theological discussions around matters of Truth.

Thank you for reading.

(Image by J F from Pixabay)

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