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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 23:23,24

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, March 2, 2015

23 “Am I a God who is only nearby,” declares the LORD,
         “and not a God far away?
24 Can anyone hide in secret places
      so that I cannot see him?” declares the LORD.
     “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD.

These rhetorical questions from God express two of God’s characteristics which are in some ways opposite and in others ways directly connected: God is transcendent, and God is immanent.

“Am I not a God far away?” he asks, emphasizing his transcendence. He is beyond our comprehension and our experience. When an unbeliever quips, “I never met God,” we don’t need to fall all over ourselves trying to defend the God who fills everything in every way (Ephesians 1:23). God is beyond our understanding (Job 36:26); even his name is beyond our understanding (Judges 13:18). His actions, too, are beyond us: “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding” (Job 37:5). So when he answers our prayers in ways we do not expect, we know that he has the complete good at heart: what is good for us, and good for his whole creation.

But God is not so distant and universal that he is unaware of who we are or what we are going through. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” he asks, because he is also immanent. To be immanent is to permeate or to fill. How does this apply to us? God’s immanence extends to those who believe in him. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16).

This does not mean that God becomes or possesses (as demons sometimes do) this or that believer in order to be manifest at a particular time or place. God’s presence is always a gospel presence in his people; a blessing and not a curse; a gift and not a punishment.

These qualities—God’s transcendence and his immanence—are contained within his omnipresence. About this, Luther wrote something well worth contemplating and which has been called “the loftiest statement that has been written since the days of the Apostles on God’s omnipresence.”

“We confess that God is a supernatural, unfathomable Being, who at one and the same time is entirely in every little kernel of grain and also in and above and outside all creatures. God cannot be fenced in, as the false spirit dreams. Let him observe this paradox: A human body is much, much too large for the Godhead; in fact, many thousand godheads could find ample room in one human body; on the other hands, one body is far too small for only one Godhead. Nothing is so small, God is still smaller; nothing is so large; God is still larger; nothing so short, God is still shorter; nothing so long, God is still longer; nothing so wide, God is still wider; nothing so narrow, God is still narrower; in short, God’s being is so far above and beyond words and thought that it is simply indescribable” (Martin Luther, St.L. XX:960f.).

The great comfort of this is that God knows us; Christ suffered and endured what we suffer and endure. Christ was tempted as we are tempted. Christ overcame what we fell prey to. God’s shoulders are broad and strong, and his forgiveness lifts us out of the pit of our sin and guilt, and makes us once again his own dear children. God took up our humanity in all its frailty to restore to us his divine image in all its strength and glory. He is not distant. He is immanent. He is not stuck away someplace; he is transcendent. He is not caught up only with someone else’s needs, someone else’s problems; someone else’s troubles. He is here with you, too. He is omnipresent.

This is not merely an opinion. This is what the LORD himself declares.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.