Where is God?
It is a question that haunted me since I first met him as a boy. It is the type of question that has more than one referent, more than one significance for a life. One can satisfy the mind with a theological answer, but remain held by some visceral, gut-level longing. Is God truly here?
Fortunately, I believe that God has already provided a way to live that answer, indeed that he provided it long before our race could frame the words.
In talking about “where” God is, Christians are forced to retain two equal and (seemingly) opposing truths. We must with one hand cling to God’s transcendence—the doctrine that the triune God is utterly and infinitely beyond creation; and with the other to his immanence—the doctrine that he is utterly and infinitely close to his creation.
Christians have not always done well holding the two in balance. A quick survey of Christian literature, oratory, and art indicates that we prefer to emphasize transcendence over immanence. The truth that God is beyond all too often trumps the truth that God has chosen to be here with us—and “here” beyond any categories of time or space as we think of them.
From one perspective, this is understandable. After all, we’re here already, and here is a bit of a mess. We must look beyond, for the transcendent power of God from outside our experience of time and space to intersect our world in justice, meaning, and redemption. It is our only hope of salvation. But it is a meaningless hope if he did not dwell immanently with us here and now.
Here is the truth, historic and orthodox: When we look out at the world, we look out at a place where God the Creator is actively dwelling and working to sustain what he’s made.
It is of this truth that Paul spoke, when he quoted Epimenides of Crete on Mars Hill, saying that “in [God] we live and move and have our being.” In the preceding oration to that lovely line, the apostle argues,
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else ... so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. (Acts 17:24–27)
Paul’s discourse brilliantly illustrates the simplicity of the Christian story of creation: God made everything, and he never left it. So you there, you runner from God, reach out. He is closer than you know.
For Paul, of course, the point of talking about any of this is to reinforce the clearest unity of the Creator’s transcendence and immanence—the resurrected Jesus. And this should be the center point of the haunting doctrine for us, too.
But the implications of this story touch every thread of the world’s weave. If it is true that in God we live and move and have our being, then what does that mean for life, spiritual and physical? Indeed, might those two be more intertwined than we think?
The best Christian conception of reality is very simple: The uncreated One is the source of all things. From one perspective, any sense of distance from the Creator is an illusion. It is mythical (though of course God remains transcendent over all, and our sin causes a degree of relational distance). My haunting question, from one perspective, is answered by simple existence. Where is God? Closer than we remember.